Role of Department of Defense Policies in Identifying Traumatic Brain Injuries Among Deployed US Service Members, 2001-2016

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To examine the role of Department of Defense policies in identifying theater-sustained traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).


We conducted a retrospective study of 48 172 US military service members who sustained their first lifetime TBIs between 2001 and 2016 while deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq. We used multivariable negative binomial models to examine the changes in TBI incidence rates following the introduction of Department of Defense policies.


Two Army policies encouraging TBI reporting were associated with an increase of 251% and 97% in TBIs identified following their implementation, respectively. Among airmen, the introduction of TBI-specific screening questions to the Post-Deployment Health Assessment was associated with a 78% increase in reported TBIs. The 2010 Department of Defense Directive Type Memorandum 09-033 was associated with another increase of 80% in the likelihood of being identified with a TBI among soldiers, a 51% increase among sailors, and a 124% increase among Marines.


Department of Defense and service-specific policies introduced between 2006 and 2013 significantly increased the number of battlefield TBIs identified, successfully improving the longstanding problem of underreporting of TBIs.

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