Helping Veterans with TBI and Combat Stress "Become People Again"
Traumatic — and joyful — experiences change who we are. Helping service members and veterans with TBI and combat stress should not be about "fixing" them and helping them return to their "old" selves, rather to help them move past the experiences and incorporate them into who they are.
So, we talk about after combat exposure, and all of the horrors that go with it-- the vigilance, and the combat stress syndromes, and the mild traumatic brain injury. And there is this, again, this idea out there that all we have to do is find the way to fix that, and we turn back the clock, and "Jimmy's going to be okay." "Why can't we just turn that piece off?" You can't do it any more than you can un-amputate a limb, or un-crash a car. Those experiences are with the service members, and when we send our brothers and our sisters and our children and our sons and our daughters, into combat environments, this is what happens. People are changed forever. We look at the experiences of our lives, and we look at how they change us. The good experiences change us. The bad experiences change us. So, there is this concept of post-combat decompression. How do we help individuals decompress from these events? As much work has been done in that area, there, surprisingly, isn't a lot of gold there. There isn't a lot of deep understanding of how you can take an individual who's been exposed to this level of threat for that period of time and to find ways to turn it back off again, and to allow the air back out again, but it does appear that a lot of individuals are going to carry these burdens for their lifetime. So, really, the focus is not, "How do we fix," but, "How do we help?" How do we help people deal with these issues and move past them and incorporate them into who they are and allow them to really become people again?
Posted on BrainLine September 27, 2012.
Shane McNamee, MD serves as chief of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the Richmond VAMC and has worked extensively on the development and implementation of the Polytrauma System of Care in the Veterans Health Administration.
Produced by Victoria Tilney McDonough and Erica Queen, BrainLine, and Dan Edblom.