Do We Need To Bring Back The Draft

Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) – Part 1 of 5
Do We Need To Bring Back The Draft

Before the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, most people were familiar with the term ‘concussion.’ We’d here a neighbor or a co-worker refer to someone having a concussion and not think much about it. That is, unless we were one of the unlucky individuals that received a concussion and then we suddenly understood just how much this condition impacted our daily lives.

We didn’t see a psychiatrist or a mental health worker like so many in the armed forces now do. But perhaps we should because our world, as we knew it, had been turned upside down. Those of us that were fortunate were immediately referred to a neurologist, and not just any neurologist. We were referred to one whose practice was devoted exclusively to brain trauma.

You might ask, why I’m writing about my experience with concussions, or Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs), as they are now listed on medical forms. My answer: I’m appalled a soldier is expected to return to combat after they experience one TBI, let alone multiple traumas.

Traumatic brain injury is considered one of the signature wounds of soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, (now well into their eleventh year), but the military medical system is still failing to diagnose the injuries in many troops.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states a TBI is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain. Not all blows or jolts to the head result in a TBI. The severity of a TBI may range from mild, i.e., a brief change in mental status or consciousness to severe, i.e., an extended period of unconsciousness or amnesia after the injury.

The first of my three traumatic brain injuries occurred in 1995, the result of a vehicle accident in Washington, DC.

The impact of the other vehicle caused my head to break through the safety glass of the window in my vehicle and the entire right side of my body left an imprint in the steel frame of my Toyota Camry. Before loosing consciousness, I heard and felt my bones breaking in multiples and knew I couldn’t see.

My life changed forever on that spring day in ’95. The cherry trees had been in full bloom and my husband and I had been to the tidal basin for a picnic. There’s not much that matches a picnic with the man you love. We used our ‘Out of Africa’ picnic basket and marveled at how lying under the cherry blossoms and looking up met our imagination of being under a blanket of pink whipped cream. We had no idea I’d be in the hospital that night hooked up to countless monitors.

When I was released from the hospital ten days later, I was horrified that I couldn’t go back to work immediately. After all, I’d been hired by my current employer and moved from the west coast to ‘come in and clean house.’ My reputation preceded me. I couldn’t appear weak. I was furious. What did the doctor mean? I had to have a home health nurse. Weren’t those for old people? My vision was coming back but I still stumbled around and numerous eye surgeries were on the horizon.

My emotions had a strangle hold on me. I was invincible; I could do it all. And where had this fool who had hit me come from anyway? I wasn’t fighting an enemy in combat; I was enjoying a Saturday afternoon.

I had work to do, places to go and generals to report to. They hadn’t hired me to be on bed rest.

My doctor said, “Your orders are: no reading, no television, no music, no telephone, no walking your dog, no visitors. Absolute bed rest. Your home health nurse will help you with your IV Lock Port and filling your syringes.”

I couldn’t imagine being shut away on bed rest with no reading, no updates from my staff, and no music. At the time, I didn’t understand the brain needed total rest and that anything that stimulated the brain was a detriment to recovery. Anything. I didn’t grasp the only safe activity was sleep.

Returning to work two weeks later against medical advice, prevented my brain and other parts of my body from healing properly. The results were migraines requiring daily pushes of medication through an IV Lock Port in order for me to function. I’d never had a migraine before the accident. For two years after the first TBI, the migraines came on with such intensity they’d start in the middle of the night with projectile vomiting. For a workaholic, this was torture, and the symptoms were relentless. For a soldier in combat and those around him, this could lead to certain death.

Additional symptoms included intense sensitivity to light, inability to tolerate loud noises, balance problems and a complete loss of tolerance in multiple arenas. I was also diagnosed with trauma induced fibromyalgia. I didn’t like it when the rheumatologist told me I could no longer scale tall walls and drop to the another side, along with a number of other skills I’d always taken for granted. How could I run everyday when I now walked with a cane?

My second TBI occurred two short months after the first and impacted the base of my brain. The first TBI had affected the frontal area. The second was caused by an attack in an underground garage. I knew immediately I’d sustained another TBI because the nausea started immediately. I couldn’t be stubborn this time. In the two months since the last TBI, I had lost some of my ability to concentrate. My communication skills had also slipped. I searched for words that didn’t come. Cognitive rehabilitation was necessary. I had to let my brain recover. I didn’t want to take the time, but what choice did I have?

Just before the second TBI, I’d accepted a promotion and transfer to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, an unforgiving location at which to work. The pace was fast and the workweek always eighty hours or more. There was no downtime.

I’d decided after five grueling years in DC, it was time for me to leave. I sent out resumes and the offers arrived. Fortunately an even better offer arrived from within the beltway for what I knew would be a challenging and rewarding position. I’d have the opportunity to further affect change in healthcare legislation. But the responsibilities would be enormous and I’d be home even less than I had been to that point.

I told a friend of mine, “If God doesn’t want me to take the position here in DC, he needs to knock me on my head and let me know.”

Poor choice of words. The following morning, without warning, I passed out and fell through the glass shower doors in my bathroom and landed on my head. The diagnosis: a third TBI.

I’d had enough. I accepted a transfer to Oregon and my husband suggested that the next time I asked for God’s advice, perhaps I should think of a gentler form of communication.

My world of work in DC was dangerous. It was my job to discover the wrongs that were quietly being played out in government. As a civilian working for the government, I could determine my exit strategy. Unfortunately, soldiers in combat don’t have this luxury. They are returned to combat repeatedly.

From experience, I know traumatic brain injuries change numerous aspects of the human body and–most important—the body must be kept out of harms way.

As a result of my own TBI’s, I’ve experienced debilitating migraines, unexplained bouts of nausea, numerous vision problems, lack of concentration, sense of balance problems to include waves of dizziness, loss of memory, personality changes, bouts of depression when I’m unable to accomplish what I want, exhauston, and I’m now tempermental. I also require numerous prescriptions and each time I have even a slight bump to the head I must have a scan to check for blood clots on the brain, and I still require medical care seventeen years later relating to my traumaatic brain injuries. The medical team that follows me are all a direct result of my first TBI. Further, as I age, old and new complications become life threatening.

Our service members should not be returned to combat when they have sustained a traumatic brain injury. I refuse to believe that when they signed to serve their country, they signed to do less than the best job possible. It’s impossible to do your best when you are suffering from a traumatic brain injury.

General Peter Chiarelli, former vice chief of staff for the U.S. Army, is now CEO of One Mind for Research, a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding cures for brain disorders. I agree with the retired general when he shared an idea on National Public Radio (NPR) recently: “A traumatic brain injury doesn’t affect just the soldier, but it affects the soldier’s entire family.”

A fact sheet published by NPR reported that approximately 1.7 million people sustain a traumatic brain injury annually in the United States. Additionally, the exact number of soldiers having TBI is hard to pinpoint. The Pentagon says about 115,000 soldiers have mild TBI, while the RAND corporation study suggests the much higher number of 400,000 total TBIs, the majority of which are mild.

The bottom line, a TBI stays with the individual for life. It attacks a person’s thinking in the form of memory and reasoning; the sensations of touch, taste, and smell; language communication, expression and understanding; and emotion in the form of depression, anxiety, personality changes, aggression, acting out, and social inappropriateness.

Of further concern, TBI can also cause epilepsy and increase the risk for conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other brain disorders that become more prevalent with age.

Repeated mild TBIs occurring over an extended period of time (i.e., months, years) can result in cumulative neurological and cognitive deficits. Repeated mild TBIs occurring within a short period of time (i.e., hours, days, or weeks) can be catastrophic or fatal.

Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense, and Congress is calling for a drawdown of our Armed Forces. This puts our service members at greater risks than ever. Drawing down will require multiple deployments for remaining personnel and multiple deployments will likely result in irreversible injuries. A human body cannot sustain repeated injuries and continue to function normally. If less than 1% of the eligible population is willing to enlist, perhaps we do need to bring back the draft.

About Sheri de Grom

Retired Fed/JAG, 5 yrs. on Capitol Hill. Former book buyer for B and N. Concerned citizen of military drawdown. Currently involved in mental healthcare reform, health care strategist and actively pursuing legislative change wherein dual retirees are exempt from enrolling in Medicare at their own discretion without losing tertiary healthcare benefits. Monitor and comment on Federal Register proposed legislation involving Mental Health, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Medicare and rural libraries. Licensed OSHA Inspector to include Super Fund sites. Full time caregive to Vietnam era veteran. Conceptualized, investigated possible alternatives, authored, lobbied for, and successfully implemented Title X, Section 1095 (known as the Third Party Collection Program of Federal Insurance).
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13 Responses to Do We Need To Bring Back The Draft

  1. huntmode says:

    Dear Sheri, I’ve known of this series, but hadn’t found the time to read it. I came back to look it up because I took a bad fall about two months ago and my head smashed into concrete. Just recently, I realized my behavior has changed a great deal and it occurred to me it might be due to that fall. I remembered your series on TBI and thought to read it. This first part has educated me and I thank you for that. Onto the other four parts in this series. Your interweaving of your own experience(s) and our soldiers is compelling. Thank you for highlighting this – it needs attention. Best ~ HuntMode

  2. johncoyote says:

    My war physical was done by a India doctor who couldn’t speak English. Want real sadness. The V.A hospitals budget had been downsized and poor soldiers are getting less then good treatment. Government want men and woman to give all. Government need to take care of their Soldiers. Draft may be needed if we attack Iran. Thank you for the information. I do appreciate.

    • John – Thanks for adding your comment. I couldn’t agree more. The Iran situation does not look good. Have you seen the information today that the Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs resigned yesterday because the amount of money he approved for conferences last year is outrageous. We have veterans that cannot get appointments and this guy is spending over the bar for conferences in Florida and promoting General Patton at the same time. I don’t think he’s in touch with reality. Guess he retired before he could be fired.

  3. Lynn Garrett says:

    Gosh! As hard as it would be on you, I think you need to be back before Congress. You make a very-hard-to-ignore presenter. I hate the idea of the draft, because I hate the idea of war. But these conditions are intolerable. We’re stretched too far as it is, in situations we have no chance of “winning”. How much more horrible for a soldier to suffer in this way, with the added emotional stress of, “It is all for nothing.”

    Take care of yourself. And like Tom said, ask for help, but for a softer form of communication!

    • I don’t like to think about bringing back the draft. I do think that Congress and any President would think more carefully about sending us into war if there was a chance their children or grandchildren would have to go into combat. The young men and women making up the armed services of today’s combat units are an all volunteer military – but are they really? How many are there because they couldn’t find a job, needed health care for their family, ot it provided their only hope of achieving a higher education, or were they otherwise homeless? How many foreign nationals are in the military because it’s a way for them to become American citizens? Once again–the draft scares me, but if we continue to destroy so many lives, I do believe it should be an equal opportunity destruction.

  4. Sheri, this is my first stop here and I’m absolutely speechless! Your experiences, your eloquence on the subject matter are the most powerful, heartfelt words I’ve read in a long time. This post belongs in a national publication! If you’ve never considered submitting it, I encourage you to do so now. I agree that it is unconscionable to send our military back onto the battle field after having sustained a TBI – we wouldn’t do it if their arm or leg were in a cast. It’s amazing how we’ve come so far, yet so many people still refuse to understand the intricacies and implications of things we cannot see with our own eyes.

    • Darcy – My greatest fear for our soldiers: (1) They are not being diagnosed properly, (2) They are sent back into combat when their commanders know they have a TBI, and (3) Once the soldier is discharged and elgible for VA care — they fall through the hole and receive no or limited care. Many don’t know how to navigate the complicated system in place to make their way through the VA and the mountains of paperwork required. Once inside the VA – often care isn’t available or what care is available is hit and miss. Each TBI is different and each one affects us differently. I’ve been fortunate in that I knew enough not to rely on TRICARE medical benefits (available to us as my husband is retired military) but elected to private pay for health insurance so that I could select my own health care providers and procedures. Here I am 17 years later, after the first TBI and just today had a EMG to determine nerve conductivity damage that continues to erode as I age. How many veterans do you think will have this care 17 years after they return from battle? And, thanks for your kind comments about the article.

  5. Sheri, I always appreciate your commitment. Thanks for being the voice of those who have no voice. I guess in a strange way you and I agree. But while I have been lucky enough to only pontificate (like a arm chair quarter back) you have been dealing with the realities.

    I will look forward to your Monday posts 🙂

    • Thanks, Florence. I’m the fartherest from a war monger one might meet. I vividly recall the day my Dad and I joined the march in DC to bring our men home from Viet Nam. My Dad (a strong believer in right and wrong and a Kansas conservative rancher) had no qualms of speaking out. As for me – I’ve spent to many years in government to set aside the wrongs being done ‘in the name of our country’ to watch the innocent of our country be used like so many pawns so other might get wealthy. It is indeed a travesty of justice.

  6. Wow, Sherri. What a disturbing story. Enlightening, educational … yet extremely disturbing. I cannot relate this to my own personal experiences, but only emphasize with your condition and struggle with health issues. Regarding your fight for our armed forces, I cannot agree. The ellusive military drawdown comes and goes by generation.

    As though the entire population becomes deaf and mute to what this does to everyone involved, we continues without real peace since WWII. No generation since has been without the ravages of war, without risking our young men to fight for causes that are more politically and economically driven than the fight for justice. Please do not misunderstand my stance. But I oppose deployment of our armed services when the direct safety of the country is not involved. Using 911 or manipulating intelligence information that we have found did not exist we went back to Iraq, we sent boys to Afghanistan. It frightens me how many of our individual freedoms have been swatted away with the establishment of Homeland Security. It makes be ashamed to know what happens in Gitmo. But more than anything the continued use of force without a clear vision enrages me.

    You are a true patriot and one of the few voices speaking into the wind. I applaud what you have lived and worked for so many years. I just cannot abide another reason to ask young men to risk their life for a government that is unwilling to take care of them when they return injured. Agent orange, post traumatic stress disorders, hundreds of side effects of the psychological and pysical injuries our men have suffered since Korea and men are still not given the care and respect they deserve. Bless you for having the courage of your convictions to continue to fight for those who have no voice. You are a better woman than I.

    • Florence – I don’t believe in the draft any more than I believe in war for the sake of going to war. I shutter each time I read or hear one more statistic regarding another life harmed or lost for nothing more than a civil war that belongs to someone else. I don’t believe in one deployment after another. I put my own health issues out there as a ‘taste’ of letting others know that I do know how it is to live with a brain injury every day of the year and it’s not fun. I lost a husband to Viet Nam and another to a much later ‘conflict’ that no one had the ‘guts’ to call a war. I’m married to a wonderful man that only had a year to go on his contract before retirement–I couldn’t take additional chances.

      My Monday blogs are and will continue to deal with the injustices I perceive as our military is used and abused. I firmly believe we need a strong military presence, but not one that fights wars for everyone else. The same as I believe we should feed our hungry first and take care of our elderly first. I also believe we need to pump some of that war money into fresh water for our country and buy back some of our own farm land that we’ve sold to foreign countries. I’m a firm believer that the USA gave in to more waste and corruption with foreign wars. Specifically, wars that have been going on before biblical times.

      Thanks for stopping in and commenting. I always appreciate your take on all issues.

  7. This is absolutely horrifying, Sheri. I had no idea that you had sustained a TBI yourself. I thought you were writing about someone else. And I was not aware of any of this information regarding TBI’s. I have no words. To think that men and women who have sustained one or multiple TBI’s are sent back to work no matter what the work is, is unacceptable.

    • Hi Patti – Traumatic Brain Injuries are tough to live with – but I’ve learned to manage and cope. I’ve also had the benefit of continuous and excellent medical care and have been my own advocate. I’m now advocating for our troops–many have no idea how to get the care they need or even know they need the care. Often our brains don’t tell us something is wrong until weeks, months or even years after a TBI. TBIs are also cummulative and the fact that we send our troops back into combat over and over after receiving TBIs can make it fatal for the individual soldier and the other soldiers around them. Your reflex time is gone, thinking isn’t as fast, vision is often part of the problem, and a host of other problems I mentioned in my blog. This particular blog is in 5 parts and I will post each Monday. I hope you will be able to join me. Additionally, if you know any writers that write Military Fiction – I’ll have lots of information coming up regarding the military in my Monday blogs.

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