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What should I know about managing a physical injury?

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 physical injuries that can result from combat or service-related incidents. Common physical issues include hearing loss, vision loss, burns, or traumatic brain injury.

Any kind of physical injury can make it harder to cope. You may have to adapt to chronic pain or adjust to a new appearance. You may have to stop doing hobbies or sports, or learn to do them in different ways. These challenges can affect you emotionally, too.

“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.”

People cope with injuries in a variety of ways, depending on the injury, the person, and other factors. Some may find it relatively easy to adapt and discover new ways to enjoy activities, while others may find it more difficult. Emotions and reactions may include:

What should I keep an eye out for after being injured?

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 emotions and reactions 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.

“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.”

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.

Sensory impairment — hearing loss or vision loss — may be especially isolating. Being unable to hear well makes it difficult to communicate with others. Being unable to see can affect your ability to read, write, recognize faces, and drive, and may make some people more vulnerable to falling.

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

Therer are rehabilitation programs and technology that can restore your ability to accomplish your life goals, including returning to work and school and participating in sports and other leisure activities again. Realizing that your outlook on your situation plays an important role is a critical step in responding to the challenges of a physical injury. After the initial shock, many people find that an empowered attitude helps their recovery and improves their 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. Faith or spiritual beliefs can help you find meaning in difficult times.
  • 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 the stress of having a physical injury and to get suggestions and resources that can help you become more resilient.

Take the next step: Make the connection.

Every day, Veterans connect with resources, services, and support to address the issues affecting 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 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 adviser

Explore these resources for more information about Veterans coping with physical injuries.

Polytrauma/TBI System of Care
The VA Polytrauma System of Care provides comprehensive care and tailored rehabilitation for Veterans and returning Service members with TBI and other injuries to more than one physical region or organ system of the body.

Use this website to investigate resources and hear from other Veterans and Service members dealing with physical injury.

Vet Center
If you are a combat Veteran, you can 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. In addition, any Veteran who was sexually traumatized while serving in the military is eligible to receive counseling regardless of gender or era of service.

VA Medical Center Facility Locator
VA provides world-class health care to eligible Veterans. Most Veterans qualify for cost-free health care services, although some Veterans must pay modest copays for health care or prescriptions. Explore your eligibility for health care using VA's Health Benefits Explorer tool and find out more about the treatment options available to you.