The ‘Signature Injury’ of Operation Enduring Freedom: TBI

The ‘Signature Injury’ of Operation Enduring Freedom: TBI

Operation Enduring Freedom was the official name for the War in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2021. While most of the fighting occurred in the earliest years of the War, Veterans suffered severe injuries throughout the conflict, including traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).

The TBI is widely considered to be the so-called “signature injury” in Operation Enduring Freedom. Let’s break down what a TBI is, what it means for you, and the benefits you may qualify for from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

What Is a TBI?

A TBI is a traumatic brain injury. It’s an injury that directly impacts brain tissue, normally occurring when an external physical force damages the brain and/or skull. TBIs are incredibly dangerous regardless of their source, as the brain is the center of most major processes in the body.

Depending on the specific TBI, the damage can be either focal (confined to one area of the brain) or diffuse, meaning that the damage occurs in more than one area. TBIs may occur in two different types:

  • Closed brain injuries, which occur when there is a non-penetrating injury to the brain tissue. The skull may be cracked but not penetrated. A good example of a closed brain injury is a concussion, which occurs when a physical force causes the brain to jostle around in the skull, impacting the skull’s interior and sustaining bruising or bleeding as a result
  • Penetrating brain injuries, which are also called open head injuries. These occur whenever there is a break in the skull, like when a piece of debris pierces the brain

Both immediately and long-term, traumatic brain injuries can cause severe negative consequences and side effects. These symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness
  • Cognitive damage, such as difficulty thinking or concentrating
  • Memory loss
  • Mood changes or personality changes
  • Intense pain
  • Fatigue or insomnia
  • Coma

Every TBI is different, so symptoms may manifest differently from one Veteran to another. However, TBIs are always dangerous if not immediately treated and monitored.

TBIs and Operation Enduring Freedom

During Operation Enduring Freedom, military service members were exposed to various hazards and health risks. These included:

  • Blast-related injuries, like mortar rounds, landmine explosions, improvised explosive devices, and rocket-propelled grenades
  • Crush injuries from equipment or falling vehicles
  • Combat-related injuries, such as gunshot wounds, physical attacks, and more

Because the War in Afghanistan was characterized by many explosive conflicts and incidents, traumatic brain injuries were deemed the “signature injury” of Operation Enduring Freedom. According to official reports from the US Department of Defense, over 63,000 service members were diagnosed with at least one TBI between January 2003 and September 2009.

Further reports suggest that approximately 10% to 20% of military personnel who served in Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom sustained a mild traumatic brain injury, like a minor concussion. Out of all possible causes, blast-related injuries were the primary causes of TBIs in both operations.

If you or a loved one served during Operation Enduring Freedom, you might have sustained a traumatic brain injury due to combat or some other injuring incident. If that’s the case, you could qualify for disability compensation and medical care from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

VA Disability Benefits for TBIs

The VA offers disability benefits for traumatic brain injuries, including those suffered during Operation Enduring Freedom and other military conflicts or operations. In addition, the VA recently made it much easier for Veterans to recover disability benefits for certain secondary conditions if they are service-connected for a TBI. These include Parkinson’s disease, dementia, depression, unprovoked seizures, and diseases of the hypothalamus and/or pituitary glands.

Unlike other conditions, the VA does not assign a single diagnostic code for TBIs. Your diagnostic code will depend on your exact diagnosed condition and symptoms.

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you could receive a disability rating between 0% and 100% for your traumatic brain injury. Furthermore, the VA recognizes that certain traumatic brain injury cases may be so severe that they technically warrant a rating higher than 100%.

In such cases, and where the Veteran cannot work because of their injury, the VA may award the Veteran total disability individual unemployability (TDIU) status. They may also be awarded SMC or special monthly compensation, as well. There’s a specific type of SMC for TBIs, in fact, called SMC-T.

To be eligible for compensation with SMC-T status, the Veteran has to show that:

  • They require aid and attendance most or all of the time
  • They would require residential institutionalized care, hospitalization, or nursing home care without in-home aid and attendance
  • They don’t qualify for a higher level of aid and attendance benefits 

You can receive disability benefits for your TBI as direct service connection or — in rare instances — as secondary service connection. For instance, if you suffered a severe injury in the military and that injury later caused you to experience a traumatic brain injury, you may recover disability compensation later. An example would be if you develop seizures from a military injury and you get a concussion from seizing after separation. 

How the VA Tests and Rates TBIs

The VA evaluates TBI symptoms – and, therefore, the level of disability compensation an injured Veteran will receive – by testing them extensively. The VA defines cognitive functions as attention, brain executive functions, concentration, and memory. To test these elements, the VA will evaluate factors like:

  • Goal setting, speed of information judgment, and decision-making to measure a Veteran’s executive functions
  • Emotional and behavioral functions
  • Physical functions that may indicate a neurological disorder, like control of one’s body or attitude

Due to the severity of some TBI conditions and because symptoms can fluctuate or vary daily, there’s no universal series of symptoms for a diagnosis. Everything is handled on a case-by-case basis. The VA may accept your doctor’s diagnosis or recommendations if you have already been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury or neurological condition.

You may be required to sit for a Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam. The exam will be administered by a licensed medical health care practitioner appointed by the VA, who will test you for symptoms and diagnose you for long-term conditions or illnesses. 

To apply for disability benefits for traumatic brain injuries resulting from Operation Enduring Freedom, you should first contact Veterans law attorneys. The right law firm can break down your options, help you understand what you need to do, and get you on the path to disability compensation immediately.

The process begins by filing Form 21-526, the standard form for applying for any disability benefits. As you fill out the form, you’ll need to provide substantiating evidence proving:

  • If you have a diagnosed traumatic brain injury and related symptoms
  • That you served in the military at a specific place and time
  • That you experienced an injury during your time in the military that led to your traumatic brain injury symptoms

Evidence may help substantiate your claim, like lay statements from yourself, friends and family members, and fellow service members. A nexus letter from a licensed medical professional may also help support your claim, although the VA also has a duty to assist and provide examinations. 

The nexus letter will include a medical professional’s opinion that your traumatic brain injury and related symptoms could only have come from an incident in the military. This nexus opinion can come from your doctor or a VA examiner. It helps to have a private opinion, but again, it is not required. Once you are granted service connection, the VA will rate your disability and provide monthly benefits.

As you gather evidence, your Veterans law attorneys will help prepare your disability application and make sure there are no errors, like typos. Once everything is done, they will help you file your claim. If your claim is initially denied, your Veterans law attorneys can also help you appeal the denial for a better outcome. 

Contact Berry Law

The VA provides Veterans with service-connected traumatic brain injuries and symptoms with disability benefits, including monthly financial assistance. If you or a loved one were injured in Operation Enduring Freedom and sustained a traumatic brain injury, knowing how to claim the benefits you rightfully deserve is important.

Berry Law can help. Our experienced, educated attorneys can help you file a claim from start to finish and ensure you grasp the full range of benefits available. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.


Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

TBI Among Service Members and Veterans | Concussion | Traumatic Brain Injury | CDC

VA to Expand Benefits for Traumatic Brain Injury – Health Benefits |

Berry Law

The attorneys at Berry Law are dedicated to helping injured Veterans. With extensive experience working with VA disability claims, Berry Law can help you with your disability appeals.

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this blog are not a substitute for legal counsel.

Related Posts

Secondary Effects of TBI
Secondary Effects of TBI
Art Therapy for PTSD and TBI
Art Therapy for PTSD and TBI
Traumatic Brain Injury Can Result From Direct Impact or Blast Waves
Traumatic Brain Injury Can Result From Direct Impact or Blast Waves

Subscribe to our newsletter

The Service Connection

Our monthly newsletter features about important and up-to-date veterans' law news, keeping you informed about the changes that matter.

Skip to content