Postdeployment Polytrauma Diagnoses Among Soldiers and Veterans Using the Veterans Health Affairs Polytrauma System of Care and Receipt of Opioids, Nonpharmacologic, and Mental Health Treatments

J Head Trauma Rehabil. 2019 May/Jun;34(3):167-175. doi: 10.1097/HTR.0000000000000481.


Objectives: To determine the proportion of Army soldiers who utilized care in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Polytrauma System of Care (PSC) within the postdeployment year and to describe prevalence of polytrauma diagnoses, and receipt of opioids, nonpharmacologic treatments (NPTs), and mental health treatments in the VHA during the year following first PSC utilization.

Setting: VHA's 4-tiered integrated PSC network of specialized rehabilitation services for military members and veterans with polytrauma.

Participants: Soldiers and veterans who used the PSC during the postdeployment year after an Afghanistan or Iraq deployment ending in fiscal years 2008-2011.

Design: Population-based cohort study.

Main measures: Prevalence of polytrauma diagnoses (ie, traumatic brain injury [TBI], posttraumatic stress disorder [PTSD], and chronic pain [CP]), VHA utilization rates of opioid prescriptions, NPT, and specialty mental health treatment within 1 year of PSC utilization.

Results: In total, 2.6% of the sample (n = 16 590) used the PSC during the postdeployment year. Among PSC users, CP (76.5%), PTSD (53.1%), and TBI (48.6%) were common and more frequently found together than in isolation; 26.6% filled an opioid prescription, 35.5% received at least 1 NPT, and 83.8% received specialty mental health treatment in the VHA within 1 year of PSC utilization.

Conclusion: CP was the most common polytrauma condition among PSC users, highlighting the importance of incorporating interdisciplinary pain management approaches within the PSC, with an effort to reduce reliance on long-term opioid therapy and improve rehabilitation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Chronic Pain / diagnosis
  • Chronic Pain / epidemiology*
  • Chronic Pain / therapy
  • Cohort Studies
  • Facilities and Services Utilization
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Military Personnel / statistics & numerical data*
  • Multiple Trauma / diagnosis
  • Multiple Trauma / epidemiology*
  • Multiple Trauma / therapy
  • Prevalence
  • Psychotherapy / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States
  • Veterans / statistics & numerical data*
  • Young Adult


  • Analgesics, Opioid