Polytrauma/TBI System of Care

Quick Links

Veterans Crisis Line Badge
My healthevet badge

TBI Symptoms and Screening

Dr_TBI_Screening

When a traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs, the injury can range from a mild case (a brief change in mental status or consciousness) to a severe case (an extended period of unconsciousness or memory loss after the injury).

Related Effects

Some effects are most visible just after the injury, and for most people, these will generally fade as time goes by. Other behavioral and cognitive effects may be more complicated and include difficulty remembering, making decisions, solving problems, and performing day-to-day functions like driving a car, dressing, or bathing.

Physical effects include fractures, fever, difficulty eating and speaking, degraded vision, fatigue, and loss of hearing and sense of touch.

Behavioral effects include anxiety, agitation, frustration, impulsiveness, repetitiveness, depression, regression (return to childlike behavior) and disinhibition (inability to control impulsive behavior and emotions).

Cognitive effects include lack of attention and concentration, memory loss, lack of judgment, and communication problems.

Many of these effects are inter-connected. For example:

  • Lack of sleep can affect how quickly someone thinks.
  • Loss of vision, hearing and sense of touch can affect how someone focuses and learns.
  • Fatigue can make it difficult to move about efficiently and safely.
  • Memory loss can make it difficult to communicate with others.

The Defense Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) Family Caregiver Curriculum (Module II)* provides significant detail on TBI symptoms and effects.

Screening and Evaluation

VA offers TBI screening to all Veterans/active duty Servicemembers who served in the combat theaters of Iraq or Afghanistan. You are at particular risk for TBI if you were involved in a:

  • Blast or explosion (e.g., IED, RPG, land mines, grenades)
  • Vehicular accident/crash
  • Fragment wound above the shoulder
  • Fall

If you choose to be screened, you and your health care team will get important information about your overall physical condition. If you have an injury to the brain, VA can start treatment more quickly and help you better manage symptoms.

The Screening Process

During the screening, a member of the VA health care team will ask you some questions about your current health and combat experiences. It takes about five minutes to answer the questions and you will be informed right after the screening if your test results are positive or negative.

A positive test does not mean you have a TBI. It means that you are noticing some symptoms that could be related to TBI or another medical condition. If you agree, we will refer you to health care providers with special training in treating Veterans and Servicemembers with TBI and similar medical conditions. They will conduct a comprehensive evaluation and order additional testing as necessary. This will help you and your health care providers better understand your medical condition and develop an appropriate treatment plan. A VA staff member will contact you to help with this screening process, to ensure you receive an appointment for the follow-up evaluation, and to answer any questions you may have.

Right of Refusal

You have the right to refuse TBI screening. This will not affect your on-going care in the VA or access to other services. We encourage you to talk with your health care team about concerns you may have with TBI or any health issue.

Suspect you or someone you know may have a TBI?

If you believe that you may have a TBI, contact your local VA and ask for the Polytrauma/TBI Point of Contact. TBI care in the VA is available throughout the entire Polytrauma System of Care, which includes the 5 Polytrauma Rehabilitation Centers (PRC), 5 Polytrauma Transitional Rehabilitation Programs (PTRP), 23 Polytrauma Network Sites (PNS), 87 Polytrauma Support Clinic Teams (PSCT) and 39 Polytrauma Points of Contact (PPOC).

Through this referral network, you can receive information about VA benefits and health care enrollment, assistance with the VA enrollment process and help setting up an initial appointment.

For many reasons, it may be difficult for a Veteran to know when to seek care following an injury to the brain (e.g., confusion, amnesia for the events surrounding the injury). Generally, if someone you know who has been injured isn't acting like themselves a medical evaluation is advised.


*By clicking on this link, you will leave the Department of Veterans Affairs Web site. VA is not responsible for the content of the linked Web site.