Functional Outcome and Mental Health Symptoms in Military Personnel and Veterans Pursuing Postsecondary Education After Traumatic Brain Injury: A VA TBI Model Systems Study
TBI is a leading cause of disability among veterans and active duty military personnel, and presents an obstacle to community reintegration. Prior studies examining adult survivors of TBI pursuing postsecondary education have methodological flaws that limit the understanding the scope and severity of sequelae experienced by persons with TBI who attend college.
To describe (a) physical and cognitive functioning, and (b) postconcussion and mental health symptoms in veterans and military personnel (V/M) with traumatic brain injury (TBI) enrolled in postsecondary education programs after discharge from rehabilitation.
Cross-sectional study. Participants were recruited from five Veterans Affairs (VA) Polytrauma Rehabilitation Centers, enrolled in the VA TBI Model Systems parent study, and attending school during follow-up (N = 155). Outcome measures included the Functional Independence Measure (FIM), Neurobehavioral Symptom Inventory (NSI), Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Checklist-Civilian version (PCL-C), Patient Health Questionnaire-Depression (PHQ-9), and Generalized Anxiety Disorder Questionnaire (GAD-7).
Participants were mostly male (92.9%) and White (81.4%), with mild (40.0%), moderate (11.5%), severe (34.5%), or very severe TBI (23.0%). Depression, anxiety, PTSD, and postconcussion symptoms were lowest in participants with very severe TBI and highest in those with mild TBI. There were no significant differences in FIM across TBI severity levels.
This study supports the need for rehabilitation counselors, educators, and administrators to prepare future practitioners to deliver tailored services to student V/M with TBI. These services can facilitate successful community reintegration and transition into civilian school settings. Symptom profiling may inform personalized cognitive interventions to enhance these students’ academic success.