Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is an extremely complicated condition since the brain controls every function in the body. Depending on what part of the brain is injured and how severely, any part of the body could be affected in any number of ways. This means that symptoms can range from blurry vision to low blood pressure to numbness in the hands to depression.
TBI symptoms are commonly categorized into three different types: Cognitive, Physical, and Emotional and Behavioral.
Cognitive symptoms deal with the brain’s ability to think properly by interfering with its ability to process information, make decisions, and reason logically. Cognitive symptoms can include memory loss, decreased problem solving, learning difficulties, disorientation, confusion, and the inability to understand or communicate, etc.
Physical symptoms deal with the body’s ability to function. Physical symptoms are caused by either damage to the nerves or damage to the brain that interferes with its ability to communicate with the nerves. Depending on which nerves are affected, physical symptoms could affect any part of the body, from the heart to the toes. Physical symptoms can include the inability of the organs to properly function with the many symptoms that causes (like low blood pressure, anemia, urinary incontinence, etc.), numbness, paralysis, loss of coordination, etc.
Emotional and behavioral symptoms are psychological disorders like PTSD, depression, etc. Symptoms can include anger, anxiety, nightmares, trouble sleeping, worry, fear, etc.
The symptoms of TBI can remain individual symptoms or can develop into full-blown conditions themselves. For example, TBI can cause diagnosable conditions like PTSD, neurocognitive disorders like dementia, or even something like hyperthyroid heart disease (a condition of the heart that occurs when the thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone).
Because of the wide extent of conditions that can be caused by TBI, the VA requires satisfactory proof that a traumatic brain injury did occur and that a condition/symptom was indeed caused by the TBI in order for it to be given a VA Disability Rating.
While a TBI must be diagnosed and documented right when it first occurs, it doesn’t necessarily need to have been called “TBI”. Traumatic brain injury can include anything from a concussion to a shrapnel wound to the skull. As long as there is evidence in the military medical record of a brain injury that was traumatic (caused by something hitting the head), then it qualifies as TBI.
The VA cannot diagnose TBI after the fact. If there is no evidence of TBI in the military medical record, then the VA will not rate it. A vet can’t just walk in and claim to have been hit in the head while deployed. It must have been properly recorded, just like with any other medical condition, to be considered service-connected.
Some symptoms of TBI may not develop until months or even years after the original incident. In order for the VA to rate symptoms that develop after the vet leaves the military, there must be proof that they were indeed caused by the TBI that occurred while in the military. For example, it isn’t possible for a mild concussion to cause heart disease three years later since a mild TBI rarely has symptoms lasting more than a day or so. There must be clear medical connections between the severity of the TBI and the condition.
As long as the vet has proof of a TBI occurring during his military service, there are a few conditions that the VA will automatically consider caused by TBI if they develop after the vet leaves the military. These can be found on our Rating Secondary Conditions Caused by TBI page. For all other conditions/symptoms, there must be clear medical evidence that they were caused by the TBI in order to be rated.