Combat service can make soldiers especially vulnerable to a traumatic brain injury (TBI)—particularly those who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. Exposure to improvised explosive devices (IEDs), land mines, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortar rounds increases the risk of suffering a TBI. However, a TBI can happen to anyone, not just military personnel. It’s possible for the head to experience a severe blow or violent jolt for many reasons. Car accidents, sports-related incidents, and slip and falls Checklistcan all result in a brain injury. Because the force of the blow jostles the brain from side to side inside the skull, the brain can bruise, bleed, or become damaged at the points of impact.

When combat soldiers are involved in a blast or an explosion, they often suffer additional injuries along with a TBI. This is called polytrauma. The term polytrauma means that multiple injuries have occurred to more than one organ and body part during a traumatic event. One of the injuries is usually considered life threatening, and all of the injuries occur in a single event. Along with a TBI, a soldier can suffer visual and hearing problems, the loss of a limb, a spinal cord injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other physical, emotional, psychological, and cognitive damage.

Because military personnel often experience severe and complex polytrauma injuries, they require specialized support services. Consequently, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) makes available a program to help treat polytrauma. The Polytrauma System of Care (PSC) provides care and treatment for veterans who suffer the effects of just a TBI or other health conditions, illnesses, or injuries that are a result of the same event.  

What Criteria Is Needed for Admission Into a PSC?

The VA provides basic guidelines about who can be admitted into a PSC program. In general, all veterans who were discharged from military service under any condition other than dishonorable, qualified to receive disability benefits, and are medically stable can be admitted into the PSC. The patient must:

  • Have suffered multiple injuries—cognitive, physical, or emotional—that are secondary to the trauma
  • Not be breathing on a ventilator
  • Show that he will likely benefit from a rehabilitation program
  • Show that he does not require one-to-one staffing for any reasons, including behavioral or medical
  • Show the need for an extensive and complete rehabilitation care plan and evaluation

Additionally, the VA accepts referrals for admission into the PSC. These referrals can come from Department of Defense (DOD) sources, the TRICARE healthcare program, sources within the VA medical center, and even self-referrals, family referrals, and from those who are non-VA healthcare providers. 

The Importance of Rehabilitation After a TBI

A critical part of the recovery process after a TBI is rehabilitation. The goal is to help the patient function in everyday life. Medical personnel show patients how to adjust to their disabilities and modify their living environment to make day-to-day activities and routines easier to deal with.

After experiencing a TBI, some patients need medication to address physical and psychiatric issues. It’s important that medical personnel prescribe and administer these medications carefully because those who have suffered a TBI are sensitive and susceptible to side effects, and some patients may have adverse reactions to some medicines. Additionally, it’s helpful if family members provide support by being a part of the program. The PSCs can provide guidance for this.

A service member who is injured in active duty is usually treated at a Department of Defense (DoD) Military Treatment Facility—at first to a facility abroad and then at a facility stateside. If the soldier’s injuries were severe, he may need rehabilitation services after being discharged. After the soldier is stabilized, he is typically transferred to a VA PRC for acute, inpatient rehab. At these centers, TBI treatment focuses on helping the patient cope with the changes in a normal, daily routine. This may involve the patient learning about the medications necessary to take care of the medical issues and understanding ways to deal with cognitive, behavioral, and health problems. Additionally, the patient may need to learn more about attending physical, occupational, and speech-language therapies and dealing with new technology devices that will provide assistance.

We Can Help

If you suffered a TBI during your military service, it’s essential that you receive the right kind of care to support your recovery. Likewise, getting the proper compensation payments is critical to your future. At Cuddigan Law, we understand the appeal process for those who seek and need disability for TBIs. We know that TBI disability cases are challenging, but we also know it’s possible to win them. Call us at (402) 933-5405 for a free evaluation of your case.


Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska