Let’s Not Forget our Wounded Veterans as Time Passes

The Invisible  Wounds of  TBI and PTSD Come Home

Invisible Wounds of War

Invisible Wounds of War

There is another war going on at home. Memory is a fleeting thing – and those of us who work in the field of brain injury are well aware of how memory is so often affected by trauma to specific areas of the brain. But what about the memory of the general public – the vast majority of whom are not disabled and have never had a brain injury?

I can already see the sands shifting, along with our expectations. With the draw down of troops and withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, the media has shifted its focus to the crisis in Congress, the budget stalemate, the health care act, the debt ceiling, the economy, unemployment…the list goes on along with the debates. As the wars on the battlefields wind down, there is another war that continues and will go on for some time. But it is less visible so it gets less attention. It is the war on the home front as service members come home and struggle with the effects of TBI and PTSD, the signature wounds of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

These wars at home are happening in the living rooms, bedrooms, and yards in your neighborhood, in your town or city, among your friends, coworkers, and neighbors. Yet they are often not reported because they are invisible. They  go on behind closed doors, but the fallout is real. Arguments between spouses, confusion and anxiety among children, depression and withdrawal, threats of violence, unpredictable anger, and binge drinking – these are just some of the consequences of PTSD and TBI.

TBI and PTSD are the new battlefield at home

Unlike the happy reunions with hugs and kisses portrayed on the media as our service members come home and are reunited with families, we don’t see the struggles over the next months and even years as they make the transition from military to civilian life. This transition can be a rocky road that is harder to navigate when the companions are TBI and PTSD.

The reassuring statistic so often quoted is that over 90% of the brain injuries among service members and veterans are “mild.” But as those of us in the brain injury community know, this does not mean that there are no consequences. What is less reported is that many service members had not one, but two, three, four or more “mild” brain injuries because of their exposure to multiple blasts. When you combine this with post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, the effects are anything but mild. That is the story so often told by the spouses, parents and even children of our wounded warriors as they encounter the skirmishes and dodge the minefields of being a caregiver and living in a home where TBI and PTSD are now the enemies and combatants that threaten a family’s stability and future.

Retreat for resilience

Hope for the Homefront conducts weekend retreats, aptly titled Hope Beyond the Battle. They honor, encourage and support all women connected to a wounded service member. The focus is on helping the women, most of whom are spouses and caregivers, recognize their risks for secondary traumatic stress and compassion fatigue. Over the course of the weekend, the women develop wellness plans to take better care of themselves physically, emotionally and spiritually in order to become more resilient. I’ve been privileged to be part of this retreat team for several years now with Hope for the Homefront and have traveled across the country meeting women who are caregivers for wounded warriors.

Do not forget them

The  message of these women is clear. The war is not over for them. While each day may be filled with uncertainties and new challenges, they also hold onto hope and courage that it will get better. Let us not forget them. The war may be ending but the battles continue at home. These families need our support, comfort, understanding, and help as they reunite and rebuild their lives.

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