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What is Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)?

All concussions are a form of traumatic brain injury and occur when a person’s brain is physically injured, usually by a sudden force. With military members, this is often the result of a concussive blast or explosion. It can also be caused by falls, motor vehicle accidents, assaults, or any sudden blow to the head. Because the damage is internal, there may be no visible head wound.


What are the Symptoms of TBI?

Every brain injury is unique and symptoms can vary widely. Damage to different parts of the brain will result in different symptoms. TBI shares symptoms with other physical and mental health conditions, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which complicates diagnosis. Below are some of the symptoms. Having some of them, however, does not necessarily mean a person has TBI. Only a doctor can definitively identify and diagnose a TBI.

Are There Different Levels of TBI?

Yes. As the figures above suggest, there is a wide range in severity depending on the circumstances of the injury. Some people who experience a TBI can recover completely without medical intervention. On the other end of the scale, some people will have permanent and total disability. Any brain injury, whether mild, moderate, or severe, can temporarily or permanently diminish a person’s physical abilities, impair cognitive skills, and interfere with emotional and behavioral well being. Because of this, anyone who feels there is a possibility they may have a TBI should be seen by a doctor.


Common Symptoms Immediately After Injury

  • Being Dazed, confused, or "seeing stars"

  • Not remembering the injury

  • Losing consciousness (being knocked out)

The Primary Causes of Concussion in Combat are: 

  • Blasts (IED's, RPG's, Land Mines)

  • Penetrating Injuries (Wounds to the head neck and face)

  • Acceleration / Deceleration (Vehicular)

  • Impact (Falls / Assaults)


Common Symptoms Later On

  • Slowness in thinking, acting, speaking or reading

  • Symptoms that may appear to be mental health conditions

  • Sudden mood changes for little or no reason

  • Difficulty managing relationships

  • Chronic anxiety, depression, apathy

  • Having more trouble than usual with

    • Paying attention or concentrating

    • Organizing daily tasks

    • Making decisions

  • Persistent headache or neck pain

  • Sensitivity to light and noise

  • Loss of balance

  • Changes in sleep patterns

  • Feeling tired all the time, lacking energy

  • Ringing in the ears

  • Loss of sense of smell and taste

  • Short term memory loss

  • Getting lost or easily confused


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can occur as the result of exposure to events that involve actual or threatened death, intense fear, extreme stress or violence, or feeling helpless. You may have been exposed to these events daily. There are similarities and differences between PTSD and TBI. Common symptoms of PTSD include irritability, depression, sleep problems, feeling jumpy, difficulty concentrating, inability to recall details of the trauma, reliving the trauma, avoiding close contact with family or friends, flashbacks, and feeling detached or disconnected from emotions.

These symptoms could also be indicative of a TBI. It is not unusual for people to experience both diagnoses. The differences are often subtle. Common symptoms of a TBI include insomnia, anxiety, mood changes, feeling like you are losing it, problems remembering or concentrating, depression, irritability, and avoiding close contact with family or friends. Certain physical symptoms may differentiate a traumatic brain injury from PTSD. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to talk to a professional who can help you understand what is happening.





Screening will help you find out if you have experiences or symptoms that indicate you may have a TBI. This is a verbal logical test. The screener will ask a series of “Yes” or “No” questions, which usually takes about 5 minutes to complete. There are two possible outcomes of the screening: you do not have TBI‚ or you should be evaluated by a doctor to determine if you have TBI. When you are referred to a doctor, it does not mean you have TBI. It only means that you are in a higher risk category for having TBI, and you should be examined by a doctor.

A variety of organizations provide TBI screening in Vermont:


Vermont Veterans and Family Outreach Program

Vermont's Congressional Delegation, led by Senator Sanders, was successful in securing funding to develop a program of care and follow-up with Vermont Veterans. Trained program team members check in with Veterans and family members to identify potential needs and reintegration issues so they can put Veterans in touch with available services to help them heal. The program is confidential and they help ANY Veteran (not just Vermont National Guard Veterans). Outreach Specialists are located throughout the State of Vermont and provide many services to Veterans, including screening for TBI. You can call their Hotline which operates 24/7 to handle general information questions as well as crisis or emergency situations. (888) 607-8773 Click Here for more information.


Community Doctors and Programs

To find out what is available in your area, you can contact the Brian Injury Association of Vermont or the State of Vermont Traumatic Brain Injury Program, which is part of the state Agency of Human Services. They maintain a listing of all of the doctors and programs available in the state for people with TBI.

State of Vermont Traumatic Brain Injury Program

The Brain Injury Association of Vermont has several Brain Injury Support Groups and Veterans and their family members are encouraged to attend. We also have a Toll-free Helpline Veterans and their family members can call to get information, referral and support (877) 856-1772. Professionals are also encouraged to call us!

How Can I Learn More About TBI?

In addition to the programs mentioned above, other resources are available:

  • Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center
    The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) serves active duty military, their dependents and veterans with TBI through medical care, clinical research initiatives and educational programs. They are a collaboration of the Department of Defense, the VA, and civilian partners. Their website has considerable information about TBI, to include TBI screening tools.

  • View the Documentary: Understanding Traumatic Brain Injury. This 29-minute video, introduced by General Colin L. Powell, USA (Ret.), offers an introduction to TBI, a health issue affecting at least 1.4 million Americans each year. It features the recovery journeys of several service personnel and their families. Please note: The film contains explosion scenes.

  • BIANYS Documentary; Beyond the Invisible: Living with Brain Injury
    This 12-minute documentary focuses on three veterans who sustained a brain injury in combat during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The film is designed to educate the public, professionals, and advocates about what it means to live with a brain injury. Although the documentary portrays the challenges of brain injury in a military context, many of the struggles these veterans discuss are shared by all who experience a brain injury. Please note: The film contains explosion scenes. An edited version of the film is available by contacting the Brain Injury Association of NYS.

  • Minnesota National Guard: "Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Podcasts"
    A look at the issues surrounding Minnesota National Guard combat veterans, their families, employers and communities. Information on TBI, PTSD, Reintegration, Marriage and Family Issues, Law Enforcement, and more.

  • Veteran's Traumatic Brain Injury Survival Guide
    The TBI Survival Guide was put together by Ted Stachulski, a Veteran, TBI Survivor and member of the State of Vermont Traumatic Brain Injury Program Advisory Board. This survival guide is a three-ringed binder that was catered specifically to the resources available here in Vermont and includes an 85 page guide filled with information that can help ease the burden of TBI Survivors. To get a TBI Survival Guide, Contact the Brain Injury Association of Vermont.

 Additional Resources: