The time for action is now to address the immense needs of our nation's warfighters. Every day we fail to act, more lives are lost to suicide than killed in action from combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. And for those warriors returning to civilian life, estimates suggest many face the signature health issues of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom: traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
I would like to introduce one of those warriors: retired U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Jake Schick, who was severely wounded while conducting a combat mission in Iraq in 2004.
In his words:
September 20, 2004, I had a bad day at the office. I was on a mission in the Sunni Triangle, driving a Humvee through soft sand when I hit an IED. It blew up beneath me blowing me 30 feet in the air. I lost my right leg below the knee and parts of my hand and arm, but not all of my injuries were visible. I was diagnosed with a TBI and PTSD. The physical pain and recovery was intense, but it was nothing compared to the mental pain that followed. I spent years seeing doctors and taking pills, but nothing helped me like the Center for BrainHealth. Out of all the drugs I did and all the people I talked to, the high performance brain training I completed there helped tenfold; it transformed my life. I learned that the most powerful weapon I have is my mind. Now, I help other service members incorporate brain health into their daily training regimen as a member of the Warrior Training Team at the Brain Performance Institute, the translational arm of the Center for BrainHealth.
As founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth, I am honored to work with Jake and a team of scientists, clinicians and medical doctors dedicated to understanding, protecting and healing the brain. Where most research stops with what is wrong with the brain, we are developing, testing, and delivering proven protocols shown to make the brain healthier, enhance its performance and build resilience for individuals of all ages in health, injury and disease. It is my privilege to help veterans and active duty service members, like Jake, who have sacrificed so much for us.
The stories of veterans returning with TBI and PTSD can be grim. With mounting evidence continually surfacing revealing that many service members suffer from both TBI and PTSD, the negative and far-reaching long-term effects are undeniable. Self-medication via drugs and/or alcohol adds another complicating layer to this devastating dilemma. The additive effects of TBI, PTSD and addiction are likely contributing factors to the unacceptable statistic of 22 former service members dying by suicide every day.
However, some common misperceptions and incorrect assumptions about TBI and PTSD among warriors are pervasive and must be changed. We must eliminate the stigma and rapidly expand effective treatment offerings to those who need them most.
Some myths include the following:
• Mild TBI and PTSD, once acquired, are life-long debilitating afflictions.
• Mild TBI and PTSD cannot be treated.
• Mild TBI and PTSD are signs of mental weakness.
Fortunately, there is more than hope; there are effective interventions for the men and women who sustain these injuries while defending their fellow Americans. Structural, functional, chemical and cognitive changes associated with mild TBI and PTSD are treatable, modifiable, and rarely permanent. Through research at the Center for BrainHealth and our translational programs at our Brain Performance Institute, we are documenting that most individuals can improve brain performance, reverse mental decline, regain cognitive losses, and significantly reduce depressive and stress-related symptoms -- yes, even after experiencing a traumatic brain injury and/or being diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.
In just the last 18 months, the Center for BrainHealth and Brain Performance Institute have provided evidence based training and treatment programs to more than 500 warriors in seven states including Texas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho and Virginia. We want to reach all 50 states. Those who have participated show significant improvements -- even when training was delivered months and years following the incident or injury -- in regulating mood and cognitive performance as well as real-life benefits in untrained areas such as managing finances, maintaining a home, retaining organizational skills, sustaining an engaged social life, and successfully retaining a job. Not to mention our brain imaging studies showing the brain's immense capacity to reorganize to a healthier state.
Plans are underway to expand these programs to reach more veterans and their families across the country. And through research grants and scholarships provided by the Department of Defense and private philanthropy, we are committed to scaling up the evidence-based trainings to reach tens of thousands of warriors and their families at no cost.
Mild brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder are not a life sentence, but the right treatment, training, and timing are of essence. With that in mind, we welcome veterans and family members to visit centerforbrainhealth.org/military to find out more about our warrior programs. Our nation's warfighters and their families deserve to enjoy the quality of life they so courageously defend.
Have a story about depression or PTSD that you'd like to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or give us a call at (860) 348-3376, and you can record your story in your own words. Please be sure to include your name and phone number.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.