Soldiers, Sports and Ordinary People

Traumatic Brain Injuries – Part 2 of 5
Soldiers, Sports and Ordinary People

Outlined in my blog of June 18, 2012 are the numerous problems created by Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs) and how they have affected my life.

Gardening season has arrived and there’s something about uncovering the winter mulch and knowing my roses, wildflowers and perennials will soon be a profusion of color. I love gardening; it brings peace and joy to my otherwise chaotic world.

What I didn’t plan on was that during a six week period while gardening, I would lose my sense of balance and fall three times. I didn’t trip over anything, nor was I bent at a crazy angle or doing something outrageous. Out of nowhere, I went from standing up to being on the ground. The results: another concussion, broken ribs, continual nausea, and my sense of taste is gone and I’m mad. I’m really mad!

This isn’t old age creeping up on me. I have multiple traumatic brain injuries. I used to have a medical history of 3 and now I have 4. Once you have a TBI, research supports that you’re more likely to have additional TBIs. Researchers don’t know why; that’s just the way it is. And, with each additional TBI, medical problems escalate and expand.

A recent Mayo Clinic study of Traumatic Brain Injuries reports that injuries classified as mild may in fact have more severe effects than previously understood.

The study examined medical records from several decades. The researchers found a much higher rate of TBI than the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate. Sixty percent of the injuries were outside the standard categorization for TBI used by the CDC.

The Mayo Clinic warns of: difficulty understanding risky situations or avoiding risky persons, difficulty controlling one’s temper which causes others to get angry, and behavioral problems, such as drinking too much.

The CDC states that seventy-five percent of all TBIs are a result of previous mild TBIs, and the Mayo study indicates that these mild TBIs may not be so benign.

The late NFL star Junior Seau was involved in a risky situation when he drove his jeep over a cliff yet his family didn’t connect this irrational behavior to multiple traumatic injuries on the playing field.

I shudder when I read of retired NFL football players committing suicide. It’s not by coincidence that they shoot themselves in the chest. The players want their brains preserved and most ask that their brains be submitted for study due to the trauma inflicted. These men tell of no longer being who they once were, their personalities have changed so much. It’s not that they now have taken off the uniform and have lost their identity. They have lost so much more due to traumatic brain injuries. The eventual suicide of former NFL icon Junior Seau by just such a gunshot to the chest is a case in point.

Teen sports are legendary: football for boys and soccer comes in at a close second for girls. An investigative report by Kate Snow at RockCenter.NBC dated May 23, 2012 clearly shows the mounting problems teen girls are having.

Professional football players don’t have to choose their lifestyle, teens don’t have to participate in sporting events and I could be more sedentary. But, our soldiers don’t have a choice. They’ve fought in the longest war in which our country has ever been engaged. But these men and women haven’t been deployed once. They’ve endured multiple deployments.

One of the most common wounds troops suffer is brain injuries caused by the concussive force of a nearby blast. Improved battlefield diagnoses lead to a record number of concussions detected among U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq last year, with an average of sixteen inflicted each day.

Blast injuries can result in the full spectrum of closed and penetrating TBIs (mild, moderate, and severe). The mild-to- moderate blast related TBIs are often overlooked in the presence of more severe polytrauma. Blast injuries are defined by four potential mechanism dynamics:

1. Primary Blast: Atmospheric over-pressure followed
by under-pressure or vacuum.

2. Secondary Blast: Objects placed in motion by the
blast hitting the service member.

3. Tertiary Blast: Service Member being placed in
motion by the blast.

4. Quaternary Blast: Other injuries from the blast
such as burns, crush injuries, toxic fumes.

All individuals sustaining a traumatic brain injury recover at different rates. As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, posted on June 18, 1012, I didn’t follow my doctor’s advice and my brain and body didn’t heal properly. Soldiers want to return to combat. They know they are needed. As a rule, they don’t want duty restrictions. Instead, they want to return to the very place that puts them at risk for sustaining another concussion.

Current testing doesn’t tell what the consequences of a head injury will be. Nor can it forecast long term limitations.

A real problem for soldiers is that even if there is some documentation in their medical record of “something in service” without evidence of treatment for the condition with the first year of discharge, service connection injury is difficult to prove.

TBI medical issues will occur from a number of different scenarios. Perhaps most important is that the Department of Defense admits they’ve missed diagnosing thousands of soldiers. There’ll be nothing in the service member’s medical file that he or she was even seen for a possible TBI. Therefore, medical benefits will be more difficult to obtain. Meanwhile, the veteran may have become incapacitated in many aspects of his life. Until such time as a service connected disability is established, thousands of veterans are not allowed access to the VA and thus have no medical care. Often it’s impossible for them to prove they have an injury related to their time in service if they don’t have access to medical care. Most don’t have private insurance. Many are homeless.

Then there’s the problem of not knowing the degree of disability a service member will be awarded and the lengthy appeals process that tragically continues.

As already stated, the many medical issues that come from having a TBI may not show up until years later and symptoms come and go with lightning speed. It’s easy to think you are losing your mind.

Tricare would have you believe that sunglasses will take care of eyes hurting from the light. Referring to the investigative report by Kate Snow of NBC again, it’s clear that this is not the case. Light can be enemy number one. I have days when I cannot go outside or even open the blinds.

That said, one positive outcome has been the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC). In its efforts to assess and manage TBIs at all levels of care, DVBIC has brought military and civilian head injury and sports medicine together to facilitate a dialogue on TBI.

The $1.03 billion DVBIC provides services among itself (located at Fort Belvoir, VA) and Walter Reed-Bethesda in Maryland. Fort Belvoir Community Hospital is looking to be a leader in comprehensive behavioral and physiological health throughout the National Capital Region and DoD.

Service members with TBIs are scattered across the US. Only the most severe cases will receive treatment at DVBIC. Family members will be further harmed emotionally and financially. They’ll want to be with their service member at DVBIC but will that be possible? It’s reported the DC area DVBIC will deliver care to the most severely wounded TBI related service members. Fortunately, other facilities are now located around the country.

My concern, will the DVBIV at Fort Belvoir become an expensive think tank at the expense of our veterans?

Please join me for part 3 on July 2, 2012 when I continue this conversation of traumatic brain injuries. I’ll be discussing how a man, my husband, had 55 years of his memory erased, all in the name of a medical procedure paid for by our insurance company, ECT. He sustained a severe traumatic brain injury during the procedure.

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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12 Responses to Soldiers, Sports and Ordinary People

  1. Thank you so much. Brain injuries are at an epidemic high as a result of our on-going war. It’s easy to forget every person alive, no matter where they live, their age, or their occupation–are all equally susceptible to brain injuries.

  2. thoughtsfromanamericanwoman says:

    Thank you for this post Sherri, I am going to post this on my facebook page. God bless you as you struggle with this as well.

  3. Lynn – Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to stop and read my brain injury series. I know it’s hard to look reality square in the face.

  4. Lynn Garrett says:

    Once again, wow! I’m realizing that my own little world is Population 1, Me, as a current song says. Thanks for helping me open my eyes to needs around me.

  5. Oh, Sheri, your posts are so revealing of a condition I would never normally know anything about. TBI’s are one of the scariest conditions I’ve ever heard about. And I thought cancer was horrid! And, just like cancer, there isn’t a “cure”. But, lucky for all persons with this condition, it’s people like you who write about it in order to make the rest of the world aware of it.
    Thank you.

    • Patti – Thanks for your continuing support. It’s individuals such as yourself that make me want to keep getting information out there. I especially wanted to draw attention to the dangers of young girls playing soccer as so many have been seriously injuried and it will affect the rest of their lives. It’s not just our service members with TBI’s. It’s people like me when I received the first one in the terrible car accident that’s left me more suseptible to additional TBIs but it really scares me when I think about our teens. Does your daughter play soccer?

      • I have to admit, Sheri, my daughter has NO interest in anything sports! She’s very interested in being in plays and has had parts in several middle school Shakespeare plays. She started piano lessons a month ago and has quite a talent and is already in the advanced stage! My son was/is into basketball and has never sustained any type of injury whatsoever. It has made me a basketball lover. So I was actually very happy that neither of them (especially him with football) was ever truly into a dangerous sport.

  6. Sheri, you continue to inspire. The reality of brain trauma is so far from the daily experiences of most of us … it is hard to believe that so much of us can be blown away … eraced and altered for all time. How do you and the thousands of others deal with this?

    • Florence – A tramatic brain injury is a chronic condition. I’ve learned a lot through the years about how I have to make special concessions for taking care of myself. Plus I’m a full-time caregiver for my husband. I have to keep myself together. The last series of tumbles (serious falls) that I experienced in a 6 week period left me shaken and aware that my body is responding to further deterioration from prevous TBIs and I received a 4th TBI in the process plus the boken ribbs and a chipped breast bone-not fun. I’m determined to live life to the fullest and am in the process of modifying some of my gardens so that I have more space to move among my roses and other flowers in order to have more foot space. I learn one day at a time what works one day may not work the next. But – I have a wonderful neurological team. My fear is that those that must depend on Military health care and TriCare do not have the benefit of the health care I have today.

    • Florence – TBI is a chronic condition much like any other disease that must be cared for at all times. There’s times I like to think my own TBI has gone away, but that’s magical thinking. When I had the 3 falls within 6 weeks – I knew something had to be going on with my brain not getting signals from the nerves of the rest of my body. TBI often reminds me of that old song we used to sing in elementary school. I don’t remember the name of it, but it goes something like this. ‘The foot bone is connected to the ankle bone, the ankle bone is connected to the leg bone and on and on.’ The same is true for all inter-connecting nerves. When they refuse to talk to each other, we have a problem. In my recent situation – I fell down 3 times in 6 weeks.

  7. Sheri – this is a subject of which I have been totally unaware. I’m sorry you have suffered TBIs, but I’m glad it has prompted you to write this series. I hope you’ll submit it to some health magazines and maybe military magazines as well. People need to know about this, and you seem to know more than most.

    • Hello David – Thanks for stopping in. No one knew much about Traumatic Brain Injuries (as it wasn’t in the media) until it became one of the signature wounds of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars along with PTSD. It’s a chronic condition that can be relentless in the way it ‘wants’ to change the way we live our lives. If you have granddaughters that play soccor, please ensure head injuries are watchd closely and the same for teen football. We are at epidemic levels for injuring our teens for life. Some are unable to go on to a university – they no longer can concentrate or keep up with their peers.

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