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Physical Injury

Veterans' Voices on Physical Injury

Recovering and living well after physical injury

Veterans who experienced physical injuries talk about their experiences. As they recovered and transitioned from the military, they faced difficult circumstances. Reaching out for support helped them overcome their challenges. Listen as they share stories of strength and resilience.

Experiencing a physical injury can be challenging for anyone. Whether you were wounded in combat, injured in a training exercise, or hurt while going about your daily life, dealing with pain and disability is difficult and can sometimes be traumatic.

There are many types of injuries that can result from combat or service-related incidents. Some Veterans may have lost a limb due to a combat injury or infection. Others may have an injury that results in spinal cord damage. Many Veterans deal with physical issues such as hearing loss, vision loss, or traumatic brain injury.

No matter what kind of physical injury you’re living with, you may find it very hard to cope. You may have to adapt to chronic pain or adjust to a new appearance. In addition, you may no longer be able to enjoy, in the same way, some of the things you used to do, such as hobbies or sports. These types of life changes can affect you emotionally, too.

People cope with injuries in a variety of ways and may experience a range of emotions and reactions, including:

“You tell yourself that physical injuries always happen to someone else, that it’ll never happen to you. It took a long time for me to come to terms with my injury.”

What should I keep an eye out for after physical injury?

“I didn’t want to be a burden on my friends, and I was sick of people looking at me or asking how I got hurt. It didn’t happen over night, but with help, I eventually learned how to live the ‘new normal’ that everyone talks about.”

For most people, grief and shock are normal when dealing with severe physical trauma, whether it’s from war injuries, training exercises, accidents, or natural disasters. However, some people experience grief in ways that make it difficult to function. If you feel agitated, unsettled, or hopeless for more than a few weeks, or if it just doesn’t seem like things are getting better, you may need to reach out for help.

Some people worry that others will think of them differently because of their injury. If you are distancing yourself from other people or avoiding activities you used to enjoy, seeking support may be the first step toward living your life the way you really want to.

What can I do about the emotional effects related to a physical injury?

The first step to responding to the challenges of a physical injury is to realize that your outlook on your situation plays an important role. An empowered attitude may help your recovery and improve your quality of life. Try to:

  • Practice relaxation or grounding techniques: Breathing deeply, taking a step back from negative thoughts to gain perspective, or spending time in a quiet place to collect your thoughts can help relieve stress and get you through difficult moments
  • Seek inner peace: If you are religious, your faith may help you find meaning in your difficulties
  • Find a new purpose for your life: This may be something short-term, such as preparing for a special event or holiday, or long-term, such as devoting your time to helping other injured or disabled Veterans
  • Make a list of practical goals for the future
  • Be involved in social activities; they can assist the recovery process and help you feel less lonely

You can also take this free, confidential self-assessment to evaluate how well you are coping with your injury and to find resources for managing the stress of having a physical injury. This assessment won’t tell you for sure how you are progressing, but it may provide you with helpful suggestions for dealing with your injury.

Take the next step – make the connection.

Every day, Veterans connect with resources, services, and support to address the issues impacting their lives. If coming to terms with a physical injury is interfering with your health, relationships, and daily activities, you may want to reach out for support. Consider connecting with:

  • Your closest VA polytrauma care facility: VA’s Polytrauma System of Care is specially designed to treat Veterans who have sustained multiple injuries
  • Your family doctor: Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does
  • A mental health professional, such as a counselor or therapist
  • Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center: VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans
  • A spiritual or religious advisor

Explore these resources for more information about physical injury in Veterans.

VA Polytrauma System of Care
Veterans and returning Service members with injuries to more than one physical region or organ system may be eligible for comprehensive care and tailored rehabilitation.
Investigate resources and hear from other Veterans and service members dealing with physical injury.

VA Medical Center Facility Locator
This website will allow you to search for VA programs located near you. If you are eligible to receive care through the Veterans Health Administration, you can enroll in one of VA’s treatment programs that can help you cope with the emotional effects of physical injury.

Vet Centers
If you are a combat Veteran or if you experienced any sexual trauma during your military service, bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist—many of whom are Veterans themselves—for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA.

Listen: Browse the video gallery to find stories most relevant to you. Locate: Find resources near you that can help get your life back on track.