As we honor our veterans this November, it’s important to remember that the trauma of battlefield deployment often persists long after those in the military have returned home. While many service members sustain physical scars that they carry for the rest of their lives, far more suffer from wounds that no one else can see.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, approximately 20 percent of deployed service members suffer from traumatic brain injury (TBI), typically due to blast exposure. More commonly known as a concussion, TBI has been especially prevalent among troops serving in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts of the past two decades. These types of brain injuries can lead to post-traumatic headache disorder, where headache and migraine can show up weeks or months after an injury and the debilitating symptoms can last for years.
It’s common for post-traumatic headache symptoms to feel similar to migraine attacks or cluster headaches, which can lead to sleep disorders, poor concentration, dizziness, fatigue and depression. The negative effects of TBI and post-traumatic headache symptoms make the task of acclimating back to civilian life even more challenging for service members.
What’s more, the vast majority of those who have suffered TBI will experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress occurring as a result of injury or severe psychological shock. Veterans deserve only the best care and treatment, but the reality is that many service members with post-traumatic headache will go untreated.
Fortunately, the National Headache Foundation has created Operation Brainstorm to help the men and women who have served our country manage the symptoms of TBI and post-traumatic headache. This initiative is a hub for information and support covering all aspects of post-deployment life for those fighting the battle against chronic headache. Service members and veterans can also find links to outside organizations that can assist in other related areas, such as PTSD treatment.
For chronic post-deployment headache and migraine attacks, the best place to start is by finding a health care practitioner who specializes in the treatment of headache symptoms. You can search qualified healthcare providers through the NHF website tool here. Common treatments include medications, stress management, cognitive behavioral therapy or surgical interventions. Treatments should be individually tailored and multidisciplinary.
Although the physical injuries of war will always be more noticeable to the outside world, the mental and emotional pain that combat inflicts on cannot be understated. Veterans have done their duty by fighting for their country, and it’s our duty to assist those returning home with the scars of war.