Decoration Day, now called Memorial Day, is here! May 25th marks 2009’s American holiday that commemorates U.S. men and women who lost their lives while serving in the military. This year we would like to honor not only those who gave their lives for our country, but those who sacrificed their health, mental well being, and way of living.
Mathew Drake, one of an estimated 300,000 U.S. veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq who have suffered head injuries, was critically wounded by a suicide bomber while serving in Iraq in 2004. He was unable to speak for three months after sustaining a brain and spine injury in a blast. Five years later he lives in a supported living apartment as on of the ‘lucky’ ones who managed a degree of recovery.
Kim Tanner was a truck driver for the Army, delivering supplies and weapons throughout Iraq. After surviving multiple roadside explosions during his tour he has been discharged with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Unable to work more than part-time, suffering from memory loss, speech impairment, and hearing loss, Tanner has paid an incredibly high price for his service to our country.
Drake and Tanner’s are only two stories among thousands.
Many veterans are coming home to bills that they can’t pay, families who are unprepared for the mental, physical, and financial strain of caring for a disabled relative, and a system that provides inadequate support for their injuries.
According to the US army, up to 20% of its soldiers have suffered from a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). Armo
red conveyances and superior helmets can’t protect the delicate brain tissue from shock waves created by the roadside bombs that are common in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
The effects from these blasts can take weeks, months or even years to fully manifest. This can prevent time-dependent care and a proper diagnosis. The confusion between PTSD symptoms and those of a TBI can further confuse treatment.
As TBI incidences increase, the US government has upped their priority level. One resource, the Defense and Ve
terans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) in Washington DC, is set up to help military personnel who’ve suffered brain injuries. In 2007 $900 million was allocated by congress for research and treatment of battlefield TBIs and PTSD. This was followed by George Bush’s re-authorization of the Traumatic Brain Injury Act. This act is designed to improve federal health care and treatment for civilians and soldiers with TBIs.
Some of the research areas currently receiving special attention are early or immediateidentification of TBIs, clarifying the symptoms (TBI vs. PTSD), and proper diagnosis.
Of course, prevention would be the best route to take, but in a wartime environment, options are limited.
Civilian groups such as The Bob Woodruff Foundation provide ‘resources and support to service members, veterans and their families to successfully reintegrate into their communities’ and other like the Iraq War Veterans Organization, Inc helps organize and represent returning soldiers. These two are excellent examples of available resources created by caring family members and communities that appreciate what our soldiers have provided our country.
On this memorial day we’d like to take a moment to thank those who have given up so much, who have worked so hard to assist, and who lost their lives in the effort.
“It’s more life therapy…more daily living,’ Drake says, ‘…what do you want to do and how can we do it? If there is an obstacle what do we have to do to work around it? Never give up. Everyone needs to know life’s not over after an injury. It may be more difficult, but don’t give up.”