Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is considered the signature injury of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as up to 20% of those deployed return having experienced brain injuries. However, a new report suggests TBI can have a large impact on veterans’ lives long after they return home.
According to data presented by researchers from the University of Oklahoma at the American Headache Society Annual Scientific Meeting in Washington D.C., veterans who experience deployment-related TBI are more likely to be unemployed than those without a history of brain injury.
Many studies on brain injury in the military focus on the most obvious medical symptoms such as chronic headache and nausea following TBI, but for this study the researchers explored the impact psychosocial symptoms of TBI have on individuals.
“In addition to the medical and headache aspects that TBI produces, we sought to determine if TBI produces psychosocial problems that may impair employment and marital relationships,” said study researcher James R. Couch, MD, from the University of Oklahoma Medical School.
For the study, 67 veterans with a history of deployment-related TBI were recruited along with 67 matched controls without TBI who were part of Operation New Dawn (OND), a VA program for deployed veterans.
Each participant was interviewed on their marital status, employment status, post-concussion symptoms, headache status, depression symptoms, and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. Of those with TBI, 39 participants were 2-7 years post-injury, and 28 were 8-11 years post-injury.
The data showed a slight increase in divorce rates, as 31% of those 2-7 years post-TBI and 25% of participants 8-11 years post-TBI were divorced. In comparison, the control groups reported divorce rates of 26% and 21% respectively.
The researchers did not find any significant differences between D-TBI participants and controls in terms of associations of frequency of headache or severity of TBI with marital or employment status.
However, there was a distinct difference in employment rates between those with deployment-related TBI and those without. In the group 2-7 years post-TBI, 36 percent of those with a history of brain injury were unemployed, increasing to about 50 percent at 8-11 years post-TBI. In comparison, those without TBI reported unemployment rates of 10 percent and 7 percent respectively.
The findings highlight the urgent need for increased care and long-term monitoring for those who experience brain injuries during their deployment to help prevent disability from TBI.