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Tips for Civilian Providers: Treating Military Members with Traumatic Brain Injury

U.S. Army photo by Spc. Elisha Dawkins

Below are tips, resources and information for civilian health care professionals treating military patients with a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Learn About Military Culture

Civilian providers should research the experiences and exposures U.S. service members and veterans face to recognize the connection between certain health effects and military service. They should become familiar with military culture, including military ranks and the difference between National Guard and reserve members.

Common fundamentals distinguish military culture from many others. Cultural norms include a high standard of discipline, a professional ethos of loyalty and self-sacrifice, distinct ceremonial and etiquette requirements, and an emphasis on group cohesion and esprit de corps that connects service members to one another.

These cultural basics can make helping returning service members with a TBI challenging — especially when compounded by everyday stressors from their civilian lives.


Overview Website
Become familiar with military ranks and insignias Military Culture: Core Competencies for Healthcare Professionals
Be aware of the services and programs offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) United States Department of Veterans Affairs
National Center for PTSD
Review the resources that are available from the Defense Department, including Tricare services Tricare
Develop partnerships with staff at nearby military installations National Resource Directory

Understanding TBI

  • TBI is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain.
  • TBI can happen to anyone, whether it happens while playing sports, at work, or slipping on an icy sidewalk. Injuries can range from “mild” to “severe,” with a majority of cases being mild TBI, also known as concussion. The good news is that most cases are treatable and there are several ways to help prevent injury.
  • Common symptoms of a brain injury include headaches, dizziness, attention and memory problems, fatigue, irritability, vision changes, balance problems, mood changes and sleep difficulty.
  • Most patients who experience a concussion recover fully within weeks, but some may continue to have symptoms for a longer period of time. Patients with chronic symptoms of concussion should get evaluated for other medical problems to include psychological concerns.
  • The cause of prolonged symptoms following concussion continues to be explored. Possible causes include: psychological health conditions, physiological changes to the brain, ability to manage stress, pre-existing health conditions or co-occurring injuries or illnesses.

Treatment Tips and Resources

Help the military members you’re treating stay focused on their courses of treatment. They’re likely to feel overwhelmed with a variety of problems — from family and friends, to workplace, finances and physical health. These problems can distract from therapy and add stress that may interfere with resolving symptoms. Helping service members identify, prioritize and take action to address their concerns helps the patient and health professional reduce the likelihood of future problems.

Treating Service Members with Mild TBI

Inform the patient about possible symptoms and the path to recovery. While many patients with a concussion can improve within a few hours to a few weeks, some may take up to three months. Mental rest and physical rest are important aspects of recovery, as well as avoiding further injury. For more information on about concussion and treatment, visit Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center.

Additional Resources