Miguel

Age at interview: 32
Outline:

After suffering a concussion when he was exposed to a car bomb blast during his tour in Iraq, Miguel started having problems with his vision and memory. He continues to experience vertigo, ear ringing and pain, memory problems, sensitivity to light, headaches, and also struggles with symptoms of combat stress such as hyper vigilance, depression, anxiety, and anger. With the help of family and friends Miguel sought help through the VA. To cope with the symptoms of his condition, Miguel wears sunglasses, keeps active working out, and reads and does Sudoku puzzles to exercise his brain.

Background:

Military branch: Marine Corps 

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During a deployment to Iraq while serving in the Marine Corps, Miguel was “conducting mount and dismount of patrols” when a car bomb exploded. “I just remember looking up, hearing the sound, looking up, it happened very instantaneously, seeing a bunch of fire and then I just remember I kind of went to sleep I guess, for maybe a few seconds. I woke up and just smoke everywhere.” Upon return to the battalion aid station, Miguel was told he had a concussion, among other injuries. “I think I was on bed rest four days, and then we did a quick reaction rorce after those four days and then we ended up going back out on patrol. So, a little eventful week, that week.”

Miguel said, “I feel like my memory, my vision, my attitude, has not been the same since.” He continues to experience vertigo, ear ringing and pain, memory problems, sensitivity to light, headaches, and symptoms of combat stress such as avoiding crowds, hypervigilance, depression, anxiety, and anger. He notes that one symptom triggers others, like a “domino effect in regards to kind of going down a slippery slope.” For example, he said “When I receive some bad news, it causes depression. Depression causes anxiety. I feel the physiological symptoms of getting hot, and then get dizzy, and then it just goes all downhill from there…It’s really the dizziness that gets to me, because it really impacts my quality of life. And unfortunately, it’s an everyday occurrence. I mean, sometimes multiple times.” In fact, due to the vertigo he was “denied employment for something I really wanted to do.”

Soon after discharge he started “drinking a lot, as a coping mechanism to fight off the anger and the agitation.” It was the support of his father, girlfriend, coworkers and friends that literally saved his life.  “They saw I was going down a bad path and it was one of those where they stepped up and were very firm with me and like, ‘You need to go get help or you probably might not live to see your children get older’.  And that’s kind of what scared me.”  With their urging, he sought help from the VA and started on medication. and effective medication through the VA. He copes with his symptoms by using sunglasses to help with light sensitivity, reading, working out, doing Sudoku puzzles, trying to learn something new every day, and “when I have them, my kids, you know, they kind of make me feel a lot better.”

He urges other Veterans not to be scared to ask for help, especially for mental health. “There’s a stigma surrounding mental health and Veterans feel that they’re going to be looked at as psychotic if they receive mental health or that they’re not going to be able to get this type of job if they get screened for TBI.” He advises, “sometimes you’re, you’re going to have your down days. It’s just how you pick yourself back up that’s going to make the difference.”

 

Miguel noticed things were different right away and says that his memory and vision have not been the same since.

Miguel noticed things were different right away and says that his memory and vision have not been the same since.

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Yeah, and that’s why I’m able to pinpoint it, because it, I still, I feel like my, my memory, my vision, my attitude, has not been the same since.

I: Did you notice something right away or how long did it take before you sort of noticed some of these -

I noticed right away because I was a little disoriented and luckily, I was able to carry on and take over the team that I had and assist in setting up our landing zone so we can evacuate my team leader at the time. When I got back to BAS, you know, battalion aid station, they checked me out and apparently, I had some bleeding in my ears. My face was a little sensitive, on fire. My eyes, I think they said, were dilated or something like that, because of the issues. My brain, they said it was a - forgot what type of concussion. I think I was on bed rest four days, and then we did a quick reaction force after those four days and then we ended up going back out on patrol. So, a little eventful week, that week.

 

Although Miguel screened positive for TBI, his MRIs do not show any evidence of the injury.

Although Miguel screened positive for TBI, his MRIs do not show any evidence of the injury.

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They ask you about - when you get out of the Marine Corps - they ask you about this, this and this. Check this off, check this off, check this off. And then - when I applied for Service Connected Disability for it - they, I can’t remember where they sent me but it was one of those where they ask you more in-depth questions. You know, are you experiencing this, are you experiencing this, are you experiencing this? And, I guess from everything I answered - I mean I answered truthfully - they determined that “Yes, you do have traumatic brain injuries, it’s just from, we can’t see anything from the scan in 2006, the MRI,” which kind of makes me nervous because I’m thinking maybe there is something there, you’re just not catching it. But, I guess I feel it, you know, it’s not pleasant.

 

Miguel describes having trouble finding a job and being denied employment because of his vertigo.

Miguel describes having trouble finding a job and being denied employment because of his vertigo.

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But I was able to have a stable job, but I did have problems with the job. They actually took away my driving privileges because of - I had to disclose to them I was feeling very dizzy and disoriented. It did affect my job a little bit. I was denied employment because of vertigo. They diagnosed me with vertigo - also I guess ultimately TBI, vertigo and kind of all correlated with each other. And I’ll just provide you a timeline but yeah - I mean - got out of the Marine Corps, had trouble finding a job, it wasn’t that I wasn’t trying it’s just that I really had trouble finding a job. I did all the things they taught in the three-day transitional assistance program and none of it helped. I did an odd job with UPS.

 

Miguel says that his injuries have contributed to negativity in his relationships.

Miguel says that his injuries have contributed to negativity in his relationships.

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It has - and I hate to blame it on that because my actions are my responsibilities - but I know for a fact it has contributed to my negative, the negativity within my relationships. [I] haven’t had many, but it has. I - the few very girls I was with - I don’t really blame them for leaving me because they just didn’t know how to handle it at the time. Luckily now I have someone that truly understands what I’m going through. But yeah, I mean it just, it caused depression, you know, not having your support, your main support system around, and even me being the so called hard-ass. I’ve said I know it did, it really softens you up a lot.

 

Miguel continues to deal with symptoms including dizziness, disorientation and sensitivity to light.

Miguel continues to deal with symptoms including dizziness, disorientation and sensitivity to light.

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It takes me a while to get out of bed in the morning because I’m already disoriented. When I’m able to do that I feel my ankles cringing up because I have to move them a little bit when I wake up in the morning. It takes a while for the dizziness to go away. I can’t drive. Sometimes I might be late to work because I have to leave a little bit later. Depending on what I’m doing it might hit me. Sometimes I think it might be a mind-boggling thing that I feel in the elevator, you know, depending on how it’s moving.  Like right now with the shades, and that’s why I kind of dropped the shades because bright light really agitates me. That’s why I wear sunglasses a lot. Typically - when I get really tired or fatigued I feel it the most - and kind of feel like my mind plays tricks on me and sometimes I feel like I’m seeing something there when I sure as hell know there’s nothing there.

 

Miguel describes how his injury has shaped his character and enables him to have more empathy for others.

Miguel describes how his injury has shaped his character and enables him to have more empathy for others.

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But, I guess it happened for a reason. I don’t know, I mean I guess the higher power, this is what he wanted for me. And things - maybe from when I look at it - now that I look at it I’m starting to have this mindset where it took everything I went through to help build character in me and I don’t want it to be any other way.

I: Yeah, yeah. Are there positive things that you think you’ve gained from it or, I mean I guess you just said that, but what are some of the positives that have come out of it?

Well just my character now. Like I said I’m still struggling every day but I think I feel like, to a certain extent - not, not like a doctor as yourself - but I think I can help empathize with people a lot better.  Especially someone that was as disgruntled and hard headed as I was. I might be able to get through to them, help them seek assistance, maybe they’d take it from me a little bit better, but ultimately, I’m not the professional, you know. I have to lead them to the professionals. And I think it made me a little but stronger now because I’m able to be a better father. I think I’m a little bit better at my job now as of recent. Little more goal oriented. Not as depressed. So, I think those are probably the positives that I got out of these experiences I’ve been through.

 

Miguel says that just because a counselor hasn’t been in combat doesn’t mean they don’t understand the issue.

Miguel says that just because a counselor hasn’t been in combat doesn’t mean they don’t understand the issue.

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I mean, a few years back I tried to seek counseling because I was having marital issues. The combat stress started catching up to me. But then they wanted to utilize re-exposure therapy and I wasn’t ready for that - it kind of made me upset. The psychiatrist was really good - at first because I didn’t like him because he was a young, young guy, I didn’t know what, he knew what the hell he was talking about, but he did. And that’s where I get, that’s where we have the misconception. Just because somebody hasn’t been through combat doesn’t mean that they don’t understand and aren’t qualified to give you treatment. So that’s where I’ve learned, you know. That’s where I try to explain to other Veterans, you know, just because they don‘t have combat experience doesn’t mean they don’t understand the issue.

 

Miguel talks about the misconceptions about Veterans and the need to educate employers that not all Veterans are the same.

Miguel talks about the misconceptions about Veterans and the need to educate employers that not all Veterans are the same.

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That’s a misconception among Veterans, and that’s what kind of worries me about labeling myself a Veteran when I go for employment because I feel - in my opinion - that some employers will think that they have to make reasonable accommodations and they’ll find any way to disqualify you from employment. Luckily that wasn’t the case here because it’s a Veteran friendly organization. Veterans work for Veterans. All about the peer mentorship. But I know those that don’t understand Veterans don’t look at it that way because I’ve talked to employers, I’ve talked to friends that I have, and their friends. They kind of view us in the sense that some of us are psychotic. Total misconception. I think they just need to educate themselves better regarding Veterans issues.

I: What would you want to say or have people know about Veterans?

Well I mean a Veteran’s a Veteran. There are different types of Veterans, and there are MLS’s within that realm, that just because they’ve experienced combat doesn’t mean that they’re psychotic. It just means that they were, even at a young, I mean it’s the young kids that fight and win the wars. Like myself, I, my two deployments were when I was 19 and 20 years old, I was able to lead Marines in combat. And that helps establish leadership. You’re going to get qualities from a young kid that’s straight out of the military than a college graduate. You’re going to get that practical experience that I think that’s what employers need to hire. And if they notice that they have a young Veteran that’s having issues, don’t be afraid to talk them about it. Because then they’re showing that you’re going to be an outlet for them, and a support system goes a long way.