Alex

Age at interview: 28
Outline:

During his year and a half deployment overseas, including during the surge in Iraq, Alex encountered and was exposed to blast from a variety of explosive devices, from missiles to RPGs and IEDs. Military doctors first suspected something was wrong when he reported suffering from vertigo and could not maintain his balance when lightly pushed with two fingers. He was diagnosed with a TBI during his post-deployment medical screening. In addition to balance issues Alex struggles with concentration, memory loss, and communication. To cope with his symptoms, he wears tinted contacts to deal with light sensitivity and hearing aids to distinguish different noises from each other.

Background:

Military branch: Army

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Alex was one month shy of five years of service when he was honorably discharged from the Army in 2009. Of those five years he served a year and a half overseas, including during the surge in Iraq, during which his encountered and was exposed to blast from a variety of explosive devices, from missiles to RPGs and IEDs, and was “blown up a few too many times apparently.”

Military doctors first suspected something was wrong when Alex reported suffering from vertigo and could not maintain his balance when lightly pushed with two fingers, and although he cannot say which blast incident caused it, he was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury during his post-deployment medical screening. Alex knew little about the condition and admits that he didn’t notice at first because of being “hopped up on so much adrenaline” form the nature of his job.

It was when he returned to the states that Alex began to notice something was off when he would look at photographs of himself and not remember being in the place pictured. “I would put my hand on the bible and swear I was never there,” he says. “It brings tears to your eyes, takes you back a bit.”

In addition to memory loss, Alex struggles with concentration, balance, and communication. He suffers from frequent headaches and wears tinted contacts to deal with light sensitivity and hearing aids to distinguish different noises from each other.

Alex has used VA resources and services to manage his symptoms and says while “there are a lot of tools out there” it can be hard to find them and that “you have to be pretty proactive to get this stuff.”

 

Alex didn’t know he had a TBI until he returned from his deployment.

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Alex didn’t know he had a TBI until he returned from his deployment.

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When I was deployed to Iraq, I was blown up a few too many times apparently. And I wasn’t really aware of a brain injury until I came back and they did a bunch of testing. They did a preliminary TBI screening and it really couldn’t tell anything. But when you’re over there, you’re hopped up on so much adrenaline. And the tempo that we were at, we were never at a big break for long periods of time, maybe a couple days. We were always out in sectors. So, when I got back, the vertigo is what tipped them off. I couldn’t walk a straight line and the docs said, “Do you have TBI?” I was like, I tried, I told them, “No,” because I didn’t know what it was at the time. They did a bunch of testing, and basically, he took two fingers and pushed me over while I was standing on a line with my feet in front of each other. I told him that I had vertigo, which means I was in some kind of concussion. So, it all led back to the TBI.

 

Alex struggles with concentration and is easily distracted.

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Alex struggles with concentration and is easily distracted.

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Concentration’s a huge thing for me now. And that, that’s probably with the PTSD, too, but since we’re focused on the TBI. They said it’s linked. I get distracted really easy. I’ll be having a direct conversation with somebody right here, right now, and then all of a sudden, I’ll stop. And then they’ll be communicating back with me and I’m gone. I’m not, I’m not, I’m not ignoring them, but it would feel like to anybody else that I’m ignoring them. No, I’m just – I thought the conversation was gone, done, and I thought I’d communicated everything and I thought it was over.

I: And then where are you when you’re done?

R: Just kind of daydreaming. My dad has noticed it a lot. It really pissed him off at first, but then he, he’s done a lot of more work with it. It’s kind of funny, I actually have a clinical diagnosis of ‘Selective Hearing.’

 

Alex talks about being open with his children about his TBI and PTSD.

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Alex talks about being open with his children about his TBI and PTSD.

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I try to teach, well obviously my two-year-old not happening, but my six-year-old gets it. We have a book that was written by a drill instructor that’s called, “Why Is Daddy So Mad?” And it’s directed to children about Daddy’s PTSD and Daddy’s TBI and things like that. And we try to be as transparent as we can, because I don’t think it’s okay to just cover it up. Because kids get it, they get it at a really young age and you need to be prepared for it.

 

Alex had trouble hearing and uses hearing aids (when he remembers to put them in).

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Alex had trouble hearing and uses hearing aids (when he remembers to put them in).

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And there’s an interrupt between how I process sound now, too. I have hearing aids for it, but I lost one. I just got my, another set and I just keep forgetting to put them in. For one, they’re very inconvenient to have in Oregon weather because if it rains you can’t wear them. If you’re outside working, you know. So, it’s, it works in social gatherings and classroom settings, things like that. Because they gave me a device that I can actually put on the instructor and it’ll relay their speech right to my ear, so it’s a direct thing.

 

Alex struggles with concentration and is easily distracted.

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Alex struggles with concentration and is easily distracted.

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I noticed there had been some memory lapses, but I thought I was just forgetting things easier.

The, the biggest thing that really made me notice I had any kind of TBI was pictures, actually. I see myself in pictures six months ago, a year ago, and I would put my hand on the bible and swear I was never there. And so, it brings tears to your eyes that you kind of really it takes you back, takes you back a little bit. Like things with your, things with your children and, you know it’s, it’s kind of impactful. So, there’s certain things my memory will hang onto and certain things that it, it won’t. There’s huge gaps from high school, my childhood. It’s like having a really bad VCR tape where you get to the good part and it all goes, you know?

 

For Alex, success means having a job, taking care of his family, and being part of a community.

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For Alex, success means having a job, taking care of his family, and being part of a community.

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Well success in my book means that I can, I can get up, go to do something that I can call my job and be able to take care of my family and have some kind of normalcy in the community. How do I see that implemented? I don’t know. I plan on trying to have some kind of these, these things that I’ve been discussing with you. An advocate for, for Veterans and the community. I think that that’s the biggest gap - there’s Veterans and there’s civilians. Well, guess what? We’ve got to live together. We can’t live in gated communities apart and even if we did, that would be horrible.

 

Alex wishes there was more information about what it would be like for veterans who are newly diagnosed with TBI.

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Alex wishes there was more information about what it would be like for veterans who are newly diagnosed with TBI.

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I really wish there was a better, like say you got diagnosed with TBI, they take you through a workshop and say, “Hey, these are the things that happen. This is -,” I think that would be really helpful. We don’t get that. Even if you send a video home, I don’t know if that would be worth it because I doubt anybody would watch it. But if you get diagnosed with that or you come out of the military with that, I think you need to sit down with somebody that’s an expert in the field that can actually help you with yours. Because everybody’s is different, it’s not a “one size fits all.” But that’s what I’ve had to do on my own and it’s not easy. And like if you would’ve asked me last year what my symptoms were, I couldn’t have told you. Going to the hospital and being in the hospital for seven weeks, being monitored this entire time really helped me kind of accumulate the knowledge that I needed for it.

 

After what he experienced in Iraq, Alex said it was hard to come home and adjust to seeing people just living normal life.

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After what he experienced in Iraq, Alex said it was hard to come home and adjust to seeing people just living normal life.

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We’ve seen a lot of things that are kind of sketchy. We’ve – there’s a lot of shame when you come back and you, you see, you see people just living a normal life here after you’ve seen – I’ve lost nine of my friends over there. We lost six more to suicide when we got back. Recently we lost probably another twenty to suicide since. Because we can’t, we can’t adjust because we don’t understand. We don’t understand what’s happening in the sympathetic nervous system with the PTSD. Or if you have the TBI, you just, you really disconnect. I can’t read, I can’t write the same. I got, you know. And it, it brings you, it breaks you down.