Polytrauma/TBI System of Care

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Definition and Background

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Major advances in protective and medical technology have vastly increased survivability rates among wounded U.S. Servicemembers. They have also introduced new challenges to care for increasing numbers of Veterans and Servicemembers with extremely complex injuries, particularly polytrauma and traumatic brain injury.

"Polytrauma" was termed by VA to describe injuries to multiple body parts and organs occurring as a result of blast-related wounds seen in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Traumatic brain injury (TBI) frequently occurs in polytrauma in combination with other disabling conditions, such as amputation, auditory and visual impairments, spinal cord injury (SCI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other medical conditions. Due to the severity and complexity of their injuries, Veterans and Servicemembers with polytrauma can require an extraordinary level of coordinated and integrated clinical and other support services.

A TBI happens when something outside the body hits the head with significant force. This could happen when a head hits a windshield during a car accident. It could happen when a piece of shrapnel enters the brain. Or it could happen during an explosion of an improvised explosive device (IED.)

Individuals who sustain a TBI may experience a variety of effects, such as an inability to concentrate, an alteration of the senses (hearing, vision, smell, taste, and touch), difficulty speaking, and emotional and behavioral changes. Whether the TBI is mild, moderate, or severe, persistent symptoms can have a profound impact on the injured survivor and those who serve as caregivers.