November 11, officially known as Veterans Day, distinguishes itself from Memorial Day by honoring and remembering all veterans, living and dead, who have served to fight for the freedoms all Americans enjoy today. A way those of us can better acknowledge our living veterans is by educating ourselves on the physical sacrifices these proud men and women make while in combat, such as the injury that has been infamously titled the “Signature Wound” of the War on Terror – the traumatic brain injury.
A traumatic brain injury (also known as TBI) occurs when someone has a sudden blow or jolt to the head causing a penetrating head injury or trauma that disrupts the brain’s functions.
Some common causes of TBI include damage caused by falls and vehicle or motorcycle accidents. For the brave members of our armed forces, TBIs can be caused by a number of events such as concussive blasts from improvised explosive devices (IEDS), mortars, grenades, bullets and mines. Statistics show that approximately 20 percent of returning veterans have shown early signs of having experienced TBI.
Possible symptoms that a TBI sufferer might be experiencing could appear immediately after the traumatic event or may take as long as weeks to months dependent on the individual. It is critical that family members, close friends and even co-workers of veterans understand and become aware of the possible indications of TBI, including headaches, dizziness, sleep disturbances, balance problems, nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, visual disturbances, fatigue and constant ringing in the ears.
There also can be so-called “invisible” symptoms. Many people who suffer a TBI may experience emotional and cognitive problems. This can include memory loss or trouble retaining information, aggression, confusion and depression. Severe depression has been linked to an increased risk for suicide in people with TBI.
In fact, a recent study by the VA’s Mental Illness Research Education and Clinical Center (MIRECC) found that veterans with TBI have an increased risk of dying by suicide compared to veterans without brain injuries. The study included nearly 50,000 VA patients with a history of TBI. The results were published in the July/August 2011 issue of the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation.
According to estimates from the Brain Injury Associates of Michigan, nearly 320,000 veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) eventually sustain TBI. Currently, the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center data specifies that there have been more than 250,000 cases of TBI in the military between the years of 2000 and 2012.
With the number of TBIs increasing year to year partly due to the war being waged in the Middle East, many supportive resources have been made available to veterans struggling with TBI. Brainline Military, a website for both victims of TBI and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), provides excellent military-specific information from experts and victims alike. TBI sufferers can also find aid on the recent social networking website known as Trymunity, which is dedicated to connecting individuals suffering from a TBI with their online social community of survivors and supporters.
This Veterans Day, take time to thank those who have given so much for our freedoms. President and founding father of our nation George Washington stresses to us in this quote the importance in honoring the strength and devotion of our past and present armed forces:
“The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.”