Ben

Age at interview: 34
Outline:

While out on regular patrol Ben was exposed to IED and rocket propelled grenade explosions many times, and suffered three concussions during his four tours. It was when he returned home that he realized he was having problems with his memory, balance, and difficulty with communication, especially word retrieval and pronunciation, which he still struggles with. Ben frequently has debilitating headaches and painful sensitivity to light, for which he wears transition lenses. He has used services through the VA TBI clinic and Vocational Rehabilitation to help with his symptoms and reintegration.

Background:

Military branch: Army 

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In the ten years that Ben served in the Army he was deployed on four tours lasting a total of 52 months, and during that time sustained three concussions. While out on regular patrol, he was exposed to IED and rocked propelled grenade (RPG) explosions many times, two in particular which he remembers as being “catastrophic.” After the first incident where his convoy was ambushed and attacked with IED and RPG blasts he recalls feeling “super foggy upstairs” and that he “didn’t feel like everything was alright up there.” On a later mission an IED went off five feet from him, killing the member of his unit standing in front of him. “After that was when I really started getting headaches.”

Ben says he wasn’t really able to grasp what was going on with him until he got home and “really was able to sit back and reflect.” He began noticing problems with his memory, balance, and difficulty with communication, especially word retrieval and pronunciation, which he still struggles with. He frequently has debilitating headaches and painful sensitivity to light, for which he wears transition lenses. Ben says these symptoms are his “two major complaints from getting blown up” and the ones he feels have impacted him the most. “I never had headaches before and I’m to the point now because of the headaches, I take the maximum 2,400 milligrams of ibuprofen a day.”

Ben has received excellent care through the VA TBI clinic and Vocational Rehabilitation program, which assisted him in getting into college and completing his degree. “I think if anything having a TBI has humbled me,” he says and advises other veterans struggling with similar issues to seek help and “go to the TBI clinic.”

Ben notes that it is important for Veterans to support each other because “it’s a different bond you build with somebody else who’s been to combat.” Of his own experience, he says talking with friends who can relate to his experiences personally was “better than any therapist I’ve seen.”

 

Ben started to notice changes after he got home

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Ben started to notice changes after he got home

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I think after I had gotten out and became a civilian, then I really was able to sit back and reflect. The entire time I was in the military I was either deployed or I was focused on, you know knowing I was going to go back over there so I wanted to make sure on my spare time I lived my life. I didn’t want to, you know, getting ready to go back there and then, you know, be focused on that. And it was all about friends, and drinking and of course ladies because I’m a guy, you know, just being a wild man like we did, because you never know when your next time is. So, yeah, I didn’t really, I think I knew the fogginess was there, I had a little bit of issues. I would sometimes forget things, and just, have to retrace my footsteps but I thought it was probably from pretty much drinking too much or something like that. Once I got out, I really didn’t, I wasn’t in that boys world, you know the dude environment, so, it wasn’t the drinking, because I completely, I don’t even drink anymore, because I don’t have the time or the need. But, from that I started to notice issues remembering things, speaking, like my family members kind of, you know the other guys making jokes about how I’m pronouncing words, because you know. So, that was pretty much when I really realized it. I was able to take a time and actually step back and reflect on myself, and not have to worry about others.

 

Ben had problems retaining information, following conversations and remembering what he was supposed to do next.

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Ben had problems retaining information, following conversations and remembering what he was supposed to do next.

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Yeah, I would say, I’m trying to think the biggest one. I think it was probably from driving, was I would be, I’d be so set to go somewhere, I’d have my little sister with me, and we’d have something set to do, and I would absolutely blank, like not where we were going but I had like we’re going to go do this, this and then our ultimate destination, but I would forget, you know, what we’re supposed to do, one and two, and then three for the final. Just things like that or I, I’d be having a conversation with family members and I would completely, I’d be in mid-sentence and I would completely forget the point I’m trying to get across. I just, you know, started to feel stupid, just forgetting conversations with family, forgetting like I said, the main talking points. I, I guess the fogginess too. I don’t know normally I could sit there and I could read something and I could retain the information and then after that I couldn’t.

 

Ben has both PTSD and TBI and says his TBI has made him a bit foggy upstairs and causes him to interpret things differently.

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Ben has both PTSD and TBI and says his TBI has made him a bit foggy upstairs and causes him to interpret things differently.

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Well, I know I suffer from PTSD just from the simple fact that, you know, my job was to kill.
You know, it wasn’t to make sandwiches. So, and the TBI, I can definitely see that both sides. Like the PTSD I can see like when I’m dealing with somebody, my threshold for bullshit is lower. But with the TBI, they kind of, I mean, I can be having a conversation with somebody
and forget an aspect of what they’re saying or, because I’m a little foggy upstairs, interpret it differently, then the PTSD might come into it with, you know, like a little bit of the aggression. And, I would say with the TBI, not necessarily and I think people associate it with the PTSD, is my interpretation of things is very skewed now. And it’s not because of the PTSD that I’m like, oh, I’m always angry. It’s because I can’t necessarily understand the verbals or the non-verbals that someone’s displaying, and sometimes I’ll take it as they’re being offensive, and they’re not paying attention, you know. And I’m kind of being blown off. I’ll be honest, I’ve had a few times where, because I can’t convey my message, I’ll kind of start getting teary eyed because I’m embarrassed.

 

Ben is in a Combined Work Program and is embarrassed to be lumped together with Veterans with more serious issues.

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Ben is in a Combined Work Program and is embarrassed to be lumped together with Veterans with more serious issues.

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I’m actually, that’s another thing we can get into. I’m in a Combined Work Therapy, or CWT, program. Well it’s kind of embarrassing too, because this program is set for Veterans who have substance abuse issues, violence issues, they’re homeless. I’m a Veteran who has an honorable discharge with valor medals, and a college degree, and they have no programs for guys such as myself. So instead, I’m lumped into a program such as this and then I have people here, who are employees and they want to make smart comments about “oh, CWT.” You don’t have a higher education, you didn’t even go to combat, who are you to scrutinize me?

 

If he met someone newly diagnosed with TBI, Ben would make sure they had a case manager and tell them to go to the TBI clinic.

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If he met someone newly diagnosed with TBI, Ben would make sure they had a case manager and tell them to go to the TBI clinic.

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Oh I’d probably sit down with them and just explain, ask them if they need any help, ask them any of their, you know, try and break, break the ice. See what some of their symptoms are, maybe relate a little bit to them so they have a better understanding, maybe open up more and then, you know, just guide them through the process of, you know, like “do you have an OEF/OIF case manager?” “Oh you don’t? Well let’s make sure to get you set with that and let’s get your provider set up here so maybe we can get you an MRI or a CAT scan to see how you’re doing and everything” and then from there, I would just keep telling them, “tell them, because you’re diagnosed with a TBI, that you need to go to the TBI Clinic.” You know, and maybe get them set to talk with Speech Pathology. I mean, that would be, that’s what I would do. I don’t know why the VA hasn’t done this.