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:
- Refusing help from others
- Feeling angry about the unfairness of the injury
- Blaming others, God, fate, or oneself for what happened
- Guilt for having survived the event if others did not
- Feeling down or hopeless about the injury
- Avoiding people and wanting to be alone
- Denying changes that have occurred in your body
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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?
There 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.
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Read VA's latest coronavirus information. If you have flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath, please call before you visit your local medical center or clinic. If you have an appointment, consider making it a telehealth appointment.
New to VA? Apply for health care benefits.
- Getting started is simple. Create a free account online to help ease your enrollment process. To prepare to apply for VA health care in person, by telephone, or by mail, explore VA’s “How to Apply” page.
- Not sure whether you are eligible for VA health care benefits? Read about eligibility for VA health care.
- Unsure of what kind of help you need? Call 1-877-222-VETS (1-877-222-8387) to find the right resources to meet your needs, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. If you have hearing loss, call TTY: 1-800-877-8339.
- Veterans’ family members and caregivers can see whether they qualify for VA medical benefits as a spouse, surviving spouse, dependent child, or caregiver. Explore family and caregiver health benefits.
Already enrolled in VA and interested in mental health support? Schedule a mental health appointment.
- If you’re already enrolled and using VA health care, the fastest way to schedule VA appointments is to call the VA facility where you want to receive care.
- With VA Appointments tools, you can schedule some VA health care appointments online, view details about upcoming appointments, and organize your health care calendar.
- If you’re not using VA medical services, contact your nearest VA medical center or Vet Center to talk about your needs.
What about other options at VA? VA offers a variety of tools and resources.
- The Veteran Training online self-help portal for overcoming everyday challenges includes modules on managing anger, developing parenting and problem-solving skills, and more.
- Mental health apps for Veterans cover a variety of topics, ranging from PTSD to anger management to quitting smoking.
- VA TeleMental Health connects you with a VA mental health provider through a computer or mobile device in your home or at your nearest VA health facility. You can learn more about this option from your local VA medical center.
- Vet Centers are community-based counseling centers across the nation in all 50 states and US territories that provide a wide range of social and psychological services, including professional readjustment counseling to eligible Veterans, Service members – including National Guard and Reserve components – and their families. Counselors and outreach staff, many of whom are Veterans themselves, are experienced and prepared to discuss the tragedies of war, loss, grief and transition after trauma. To learn more, visit the Vet Center website or find a nearest Vet Center. Teams are also available 24/7 by phone at 1-877-927-8387.
What about support beyond VA?
There’s a whole community of support ready to help with whatever you’re going through. Use this tool to find resources near you.