Pointing to an image of a brain scan

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)


Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) occurs when a sudden injury occurs to the brain. This can occur from something such as a minor blow to the head to as severe as an object penetrating the brain. Symptoms can be as mild as a headache or as extreme as a coma. Veterans and the military are particularly hard hit by incidents of TBI. From 2000 – 2020, over 430,000 servicemembers have been diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury. Over 80% of these cases occurred in non-combat environments such as motor vehicle accidents during training exercises. (CDC, VA)

In-service events that can cause a Traumatic Brain Injury include (among others):

  • Suffering a bullet wound or fragment wound above the shoulders
  • Being near a blast or explosion
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Falls
  • Any other incident involving a sudden jolt or blow to the head

Three Main Types of TBI

Traumatic Brain Injury falls into three main types:

  • Mild TBI or concussion – most TBI’s that occur each year are mild or concussions. This is caused by a either a direct blow or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move quickly back and forth.
  • Moderate TBI – a more severe injury to the head. Both moderate and severe TBI tend to lead to long term medical conditions.
  • Severe TBI – penetrating injury to the head, such as a gunshot wound. Typically life-threatening and life altering for survivors.

Traumatic Brain Injury can cause a range of reactions. In response to TBI, Veterans may:

  • Have difficulty concentrating or remembering things
  • Be repeating themselves
  • Become easily angered or frustrated.

Common Symptoms

Some common symptoms can include:

  • headaches
  • blurred vision
  • hearing problems
  • difficulty speaking
  • dizziness, and others

Suicide Risk

Veterans who have been diagnosed with TBI are more than twice as likely to die by suicide compared to those without that diagnosis. (VA) Firearm related suicide is the most common cause of TBI-related deaths in the United States (CDC). Studies of servicemembers and Veterans with TBI suggest they may:

  • have ongoing and persistent symptoms
  • experience co-occurring health conditions, such as PTSD and depression
  • have difficulty accessing healthcare – especially mental health services
  • report thinking about or planning a suicide attempt.

If you the Veteran or a family member of a Veteran suspect you are suffering from the symptoms of a Traumatic Brain Injury, get in touch immediately with your health care provider as even mild TBI can lead to long term consequences. If your healthcare provider is the VA, reach out as soon as possible to your provider for assistance. Ask your primary care practitioner to help you make an appointment for VA mental health services.

The symptoms of a Traumatic Brain Injury vary from person to person, but one thing remains the same: the importance of receiving medical attention to monitor and treat your injuries.

If you’re a Veteran and are not already using VA for your healthcare needs, contact your closest VA medical center or Vet Center to talk about your needs. If you suspect you have a Traumatic Brain Injury, you can find the nearest Veterans' Services facility

If you are having suicidal thoughts, thoughts about self-harm or causing harm to others, contact the VA’s Crisis Helpline: 988, press 1.

Contact Assistance

If you need assistance, or just want to learn more about the benefits and services you may be eligible for, schedule an appointment with one of our Veterans Benefits Advisors, all Veterans themselves.

  • Call 1-888-838-7697 to speak to an advisor.
  • Schedule a phone or video consultation online.
  • Use our search to find a Services Office near you.