Veterans and Servicemembers

According to a recent study, "U.S. military service members who endured a mild concussion after blast injury while deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan may continue to experience mental health symptoms as well as decreases in quality of life for at least five years after their injury...The authors note that this suggests the need for more targeted treatment options with longer-lasting benefits." ScienceDaily 

First responders also suffer concussions at a very high rate. For example, over 4,000 firefighters suffer a concussion each year.

 
 

Websites created by the VA and the Department of Defense for veterans with traumatic brain injury

Make the Connection is a Department of Veterans Affairs website which provides resources for more information for veterans experiencing TBI.

Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center
This Department of Defense website provides Veterans, Service members, and their families with TBI educational materials and information on care coordination and research.


Government treatment centers

 

VA Polytrauma/TBI System of Care

The VA has a national Polytrauma/TBI System of Care throughout the United States providing state-of-the-art TBI diagnosis and rehabilitation. 

VA Polytrauma/TBI National Coordinator: (804) 675-5597

Polytrauma Assistance: (888) 827-4824
https://www.polytrauma.va.gov/

Harmony Allen speaks about her service-related injury (minute 9:45) and about the diagnosis and treatment she received at VA Polytrauma/TBI clinic in Tampa, Florida (minute 34:05.)

This video is from the PINK Concussions panel "The Faces of Female Brain Injury" at the 2017 National Institutes of Health workshop "Understanding Brain Injury in Women." 

 

Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC)

The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center is the manager for the traumatic brain injury “Pathway of Care” within the Military Health System. DVBIC “promotes state-of-the-science care from point-of-injury to reintegration for service members, veterans, and their families to prevent and mitigate the consequences of mild to severe TBI.”

The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) supports a network of 22 sites around the country which work with traumatic brain injuries. These sites include 18 military treatment facilities and five Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers. Activities at each DVBIC center varies by site and may include research, education, direct care to service members and their families, and helping locate TBI services.

As an example, The Madigan Traumatic Brain Injury Program in Washington State is comprised of an interdisciplinary team that treats TBI in a holistic fashion. All service members, retirees, and families are eligible for this program.

The team includes “Primary Care, Neurology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Optometry, Psychiatric NP, PT, OT, Creative Arts Therapist, LPN, Nurse Case Managers, Nurse Educators, Ombudsman (Speech therapy and Integrative modalities including acupuncture, chiropractic care pending).”


Take a virtual tour and learn about the National Intrepid Center of Excellence

National Intrepid Center for Excellence (NICoE)

The National Intrepid Center for Excellence “helps service members and their families manage traumatic brain injury and psychological health” with a holistic, interdisciplinary approach to care. The NICoE center provides cutting-edge diagnostic evaluation, individualized treatment planning, clinical care, and research. There is a 4-week intensive outpatient care program as well. NICoE is an initiative of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and is located in Bethesda, Maryland.


Private treatment centers which provide free services to veterans

The Brain Treatment Foundation provides veterans with a comprehensive, individually tailored treatment program, at no cost to the veteran. The foundation is located in Irving, Texas, but works with veterans from around the country.

Homecoming For Veterans and the EEG Institute, a world leader in neurofeedback research and training offers neurofeedback, at no cost, for veterans suffering from concussion, mTBI, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through a network of clinicians across the country. Find a neurofeedback clinician here.

Neurological Recovery for the Armed Services is a nonprofit extension of the Neurological Recovery Center. This physical therapy clinic provides free one-on-one rehabilitation services to military and military families affected by neurological impairments including mTBI (mild traumatic brain injuries). The comprehensive neurological rehabilitation clinic includes new technology robotic therapies and virtual reality therapy, plus yoga, massage, therapeutic exercises, and aquatic therapy. The clinic is located in the Dallas Fort-Worth area.


Nonprofit organizations that serve Veterans

The American Legion

The American Legion has good resources for veterans with a concussion / traumatic brain injury. The website has in-depth information on many pertinent topics, such as

  • how to apply for enrollment in the VA health-care system

  • community-based outpatient clinics (a good resource for acupuncture treatments, for example)

Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW)

The Veterans of Foreign Wars provides extensive support to veterans with all types of needs. You can also see recent news concerning the VA and traumatic brain injuries by typing in “traumatic brain injury” into the search tool on the website.


APPs developed by the VA

CBT-i Coach app to help with sleep

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy apps were found to be effective in combatting insomnia in a 2017 research study. The study also concluded the CBT apps have “likely benefits beyond sleep to mental health and well-being.” NPR has an excellent article (Oct 8, 2018) about CBT apps for insomnia. In the article, several sleep counselors recommend the FREE app developed by the Veterans Administration, called CBT-i Coach.

Concussion Coach app helps with self-assessment, education, relaxation, and resilience

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has developed a free Concussion Coach app, available at the Apple App Store and Google Play. It is geared towards Veterans and Service members with a mild to moderate concussion. The app provides:

  • Self-assessment tools

  • Symptom relief tools including relaxation exercises, and planning tools to build resilience

  • Educational materials about concussions

  • Immediate access to crisis resources, personal support contacts, or professional healthcare resources


Veterans using CBD (from hemp or marijuana) as a treatment

For research on CBD use for concussions, go to our section on CBD Research.

There is a growing movement to provide ease of access to CBD products (from either hemp or marijuana) to veterans. Several nonprofit organizations provide no-cost CBD products to veterans as well as a community, group meetings, and policy advocacy: HEROGROWN (national, also includes First Responders) SC VETERANS ALLIANCE (California only), WEED FOR WARRIORS PROJECT, and VETERANS CANNABIS PROJECT

A suggested reading is this article about SC Veterans Alliance and the promise of cannabis for Veterans on Mashable.

Look for military discounts for CBD hemp products; discounts can be as 40% for veterans. Marijuana dispensaries typically give 10% discounts to veterans. See additional information about using CBD products for a concussion in our section CBD and Concussion Recovery.

Marijuana and the Federal Government 

'The benefits of research are unquestionable,' Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) wrote in a letter to Sessions on Thursday. 'Ninety-two percent of veterans support federal research on marijuana, and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is aware that many veterans have been using marijuana to manage the pain of their wartime wounds. America’s heroes deserve scientifically-based assessments of the substance many of them are already self-administering.'” April 12, 2018, Marijuana Moment


Medical Care and Alternative Treatments 

See our sections on Medical Care treatment options and Alternative Treatments. In the Medical Care section, treatments discussed include Vestibular Therapy (for balance problems/dizziness), Vision TherapyPhysical Therapy, and Hormone Treatments. In the Alternative Treatments section, treatments discussed include  Craniosacral TherapyMassageLight Therapy, and CBD from marijuana or hemp, focusing on the research related to this issue.


Hormone Treatment

See our section on hormone treatments for men and women.


Women Veterans

We recommend PINKConcussions which advocates "to improve the pre-injury education and post-injury care for women and girls challenged by brain injury including concussion." PINKConcussions runs a closed Facebook support group for women who are active military or veterans. You can go directly to the Facebook group and click +Join Group.


Pledge your brain to help accelerate research into concussions, TBI, PTSD, and CTE

Boston Brain Bank, a project of the VA, Boston University, and the Concussion Legacy Foundation

The military and veteran communities are encouraged to pledge their brains to the VA-BU-CFL Brain Bank jointly managed by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, Boston University, and Concussion Legacy Foundation. Brain donations will allow researchers at the Boston VA Healthcare System and Boston University to gain a better understanding of military brain trauma exposure. The goal of this research is to advance effective treatments for TBI and CTE.

Donation information

More information can be found on Project Enlist, and to pledge your brain to the VA-BU-CLF brain bank, fill out this Brain Donation Registry form.

Pacific Northwest Brain Donor Network - Service Members and Veterans

The Pacific Northwest Brain Donor Network, launched in 2016, is part of an effort to understand the impact of concussions, or impact of mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), on active-duty military members and veterans. "Researchers at the University of Washington and the local Veterans Affairs health-care system have begun collecting the donated brains of service members to examine them for possible dementia and other disorders linked to repeated blast injury and head trauma." The researchers will be looking to see if the brains of veterans have signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, which is marked by abnormal accumulations of Tau protein in the brain.

The donated brains will be stored at UW’s brain bank which also stores brains for research into diseases such as dementia. This is the first Brain Bank to focus on studying military injuries.

Donation information

Contact the Research Hotline at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System at 206-277-5566 or toll-free at 800-329-8387, ext. 65566. The researchers are also working with SightLife.org and the office of the Pierce County Medical Examiner to reach out to the family members of potential donors.


Light Therapy (Photobiomodulation)

There are currently several clinical trials in progress (as of 2018) working with veterans and studying the use of near-infrared light which is applied directly to the head. These trials are intended to expand upon earlier clinical trials that showed positive results. See the article Can Light therapy help the brain? in Research News from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The LED lights are either pulsed or continuous, with the light applied with different types of equipment, depending on the study. If you are interested in trying this technique yourself, you can buy a Vielight product which is available for purchase to the public. It's not cheap, but Vielight provides a six-month, 80% money-back guarantee if the device doesn't work for you. For detailed information, see our section on Light Therapy.  

Dr. Margaret Naeser is currently heading up a study at the Boston VA: Transcranial, Light-emitting Diode (LED) Therapy to Improve Cognition in Gulf War Veterans Illnesses. In this study, she is using a LED helmet created by Photomedex as well as the Vielight intranasal diodes.

Vielight for home use

This product can be purchased by individuals and provides the same type of light therapy that is being studied by clinicians. see our section on light therapy for more details.

Current Clinical Trials

Scalp Application of Red and Near-Infrared Light, From Light-Emitting Diodes (LED) to Improve Thinking and Memory in Veterans With Gulf War Illnesses 

Estimated number of participants: 160. Principal Investigator, Margaret Naeser, Ph.D. and Michael D. Ho, Ph.D., VA Boston Healthcare System. Estimated study completion date is July 13, 2019. Info Here.

LED Light Therapy to Improve Cognitive & Psychosocial Function in TBI-PTSD Veterans

Estimated number of participants: 50. Principal Investigator Jeffrey A Knight, Ph.D., VA Boston Healthcare System, sponsored by VA Office of Research and Development. Estimated study completion date is March 1, 2019. Info Here.

Noninvasive LED Treatment to Improve Cognition and Promote Recovery in Blast TBI

Estimated number of participants: 32. Principal Investigator Yelena Bogdanova, Ph.D., VA Boston Healthcare System, VA Office of Research and Development. Estimated study completion date Nov 13, 2018. Info Here


Article: Traumatic Brain Injury: A Major Medical Problem That Could Be Treated Using Transcranial, Red/Near-Infrared LED Photobiomodulation

"Clinical studies showing improvements in cognition (executive function and verbal memory), PTSD, and sleep, following a series of transcranial LED treatments in chronic TBI, are promising. For example, significant improvements were reported in executive function and verbal memory, after a series of 18 red/NIR tLED treatments in chronic TBI patients who began LED therapy at 10 months to 8 years post-TBI.

Participants reported improved sleep, and fewer PTSD symptoms, if present. Post-transcranial LED therapy, one participant was able to write checks and pay bills for the first time since an MVA 5 years earlier. For another participant, his mTBI was caused by having been pulled into a blast furnace. His recurring nightmares of this TBI, which had lasted for 2 years, ceased post-tLED. One of the participants was still active duty military but had been unable to return to his unit for 3 years following blast TBI. Post-tLED he returned for further evaluation by his special operations unit." See article.