Mike

Age at interview: 25
Outline:

Mike retired from military service in 2014 after suffering several concussions, and two confirmed blast-related brain injuries, while deployed in Afghanistan. Once back home Mike struggled with memory issues and symptoms related to PTSD. To cope with the symptoms of his injuries and the stressors of reintegrating into society after his military service, Mike focuses on keeping busy with hobbies like hunting and fishing and works to “keep his mind off the bad stuff.”

Background:

Military branch: Army 

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Mike had hoped to be a military “lifer.” He enlisted in the Army at age 18 after graduating from high school. He thrived in service and loved his work in an Army special operations unit. Following several concussions, and two confirmed TBIs sustained during IED blasts while serving in Afghanistan in 2012 and 2013, Mike officially retired from military service in 2014 at the suggestion of his commanding officer who did not want him to end up as “scatter-brained” as he was. He had served six years.

Upon returning home, Mike felt lost and says he didn’t know what to do with himself and felt that he had lost the ability to do something he loved. He floated around for a few months “couch surfing” with friends before taking a job at a lumber company. Mike now lives in his own apartment, and while continuing to work at the lumber company, is studying to become an EMT, which he says is a struggle with his condition.

Mike describes difficulties stemming from his injuries including issues with memory, constantly second guessing himself, and symptoms of PTSD. He also struggles with the stigma associated with returning military veterans and public perception of TBI and PTSD, finding it difficult to fit into a society where he feels he is “seen as a monster.” He encourages his family and others to talk to him about his experiences overseas. “If you’ve got a question about something, come to me and ask.”

To cope with the symptoms of his injuries and the stressors of reintegrating into society after his military service, Mike focuses on keeping busy with hobbies like hunting and fishing and works to “keep his mind off the bad stuff.” He uses his cell phone to keep track of his schedule and writes things down multiples times posting them in various places like his home and his car. To others struggling with symptoms of concussion and TBI, he acknowledges that it is going to be rough but that they have to just stick it out. “Just ride it out the best you can,” he says. “You’ll make it through.”

 

Mike has had a dozen or so concussions, mainly from getting blow up from IEDs, and or two confirmed TBIs.

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Mike has had a dozen or so concussions, mainly from getting blow up from IEDs, and or two confirmed TBIs.

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Well, geez, I’ve, been through a lot, probably, maybe like, a dozen or so concussions, one or two TBIs according to Air Force Medics. Mainly from IEDs just going off and rattling the truck and just getting blown, blown up to smitherins. Made CNN off of one incident.

 

Mike says you don’t really remember much after a concussion and are in a state of shock and not really yourself.

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Mike says you don’t really remember much after a concussion and are in a state of shock and not really yourself.

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You don’t really remember much. You just wake up and you’re just kind of in like a state of shock I like to say. And you just kind of realize that, you’re, I mean you’re not yourself. You kind of speak like Mushmouth or Fat Albert a little bit and then you kind of slowly regain your consciousness and when you regain your consciousness you kind of like, you’re not yourself. You’re, you think you’re off in la la land, as we call it. Yeah, I mean, there’s not much to say besides like the background stories too it. But, I mean it’s, it’s one of those things that, we kind of take serious because, I mean, I started off as 11 Bravo, and that’s all they would, which is an infantry man, and that, they’d preach to us day in and day out. “Hey, if you see anybody with signs and symptoms of a TBI or concussion that you, you kind of pull them aside and say “hey, you’re sitting this one out.” Same time, you don’t want to pull your best friend out because you want him to engage in all the fun you’re having, and, I mean, it’s kind of like a hard toll. I mean, it’s like boxing pretty much. You get knocked out and you fall back up again. Or, actually when you see the guys fall down they’re always tensing up. Well, in my mind, that’s the way I kind of see it, is you fall down and, and you’re ready to go when you wake back up.

 

If someone had a concussion while they were overseas, Mike’s commander would make them see a doctor and sit out for two weeks.

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If someone had a concussion while they were overseas, Mike’s commander would make them see a doctor and sit out for two weeks.

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I wanted to be a lifer. My commander at the time he, he was like “I don’t want you to end up as scramble-minded as I am. And this guy had, he’s been through a lot, like, he started at the end of the Gulf War, did all of Iraq, and did the majority of Afghanistan, and he’s over there currently right now.  And, he’s like “man, you’re probably one of my best soldiers, you’re kind hearted to everybody, I just don’t want to see you messed up like I am.” And, like, he is extremely scatter-brained. Like I don’t know how the guy is living. He’s probably had at least a good 52 concussions and probably 20 or so, 20 or so TBIs. And that point, from my EMR background, I immediately assume that he should be a vegetable. But, I mean the guy’s still living and breathing. And, he’s scramble-minded, and you gotta remind him every five minutes or so, “hey this is what we’re doing, this is what we oughta do.”

I mean, he’d look out after everybody. If somebody had a concussion or a TBI overseas, he would immediately send you to the, the Air Force doctors, which those are supposedly one of the best doctors. And literally you’d sit out for two weeks. As much as you’d wanted to go and you’d try to fight and stuff he’d punch you right in the face and say “hey, sit down, you need to give your brain some time to heal.” And, I mean that’s kind of, how it is now, and how we, how we have developed SOPs overseas. And he’d just say “hey, no matter, I understand how you want to get in the fight, but you can’t because your brain is messed up and you can’t, you’re not fully there, you don’t understand or comprehend things and we need you to be at full capacity in order to realize that, hey, this is what’s happening. This is what I need to do. If you’re scatterbrained you can’t do that.” 

 

Mike says that TBI is something that the VA takes seriously, but doesn’t know how to treat.

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Mike says that TBI is something that the VA takes seriously, but doesn’t know how to treat.

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The VA doesn’t recognize concussions or TBIs as a disability or a defect. I mean, when you come back from Afghanistan or Iraq, you go through like multiple, when I say multiple I mean you’re at least going through, we call them med lines. And really all it is just you getting checked on to make sure your hearing, your brain, your blood and all this stuff is perfectly fine. And, I mean they sit there and ask you over and over again, “hey, is your brain OK, you’re seeing straight, you don’t have any ringing in your ears, or anything like that, you’re not slurring your speech.” I mean it’s, it’s kind of like one of those things that they take seriously, but they don’t know how to treat it. And it’s, that’s the bad end, I’d say, of it, it’s, I mean nobody wants it to happen to them. We all want to stay in the fight and we all want to continue fighting alongside our brother, our brothers. But, I mean it’s, something that happens.

 

Mike has applied for jobs with police departments, but says they won’t take him because he has PTSD.

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Mike has applied for jobs with police departments, but says they won’t take him because he has PTSD.

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Yes. I’m trying to be an EMT. I first was studying law enforcement, and then now I’m switching over to EMT because law enforcement deficiencies. All of the, like the police departments I’ve interviewed with, they won’t take me because I have PTSD. They’re afraid of the fact that, if I do have an attack, or I am reminded of something, that I’m going to freak out, harm myself, or harm others around me. And so - that’s another big crucial fact – that maybe it’s like a little demon inside of you, I like to call it. And people - when people see it - they’re afraid of you. And, I mean the closest person to me is my sister, and she kind of realized the demon inside. It just kind of, it tears you and your family apart. I’ll say that.

 

Mike says the hardest thing for him has been coping with society.

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Mike says the hardest thing for him has been coping with society.

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Coping with society. When you come back they give you, like a 96-hour, day-off pass to where you, get back, where you’re supposed to get back with society and realize, this is what society is up to, this is what’s happening and this is how it goes. But, I mean, when you go overseas and live like tragic incidents and stuff there’s no way of getting back into society because you’re seen as a monster. But I mean people don’t really understand like the pain and stuff that we go through and the day to day life that happens but, you just kind of cross your fingers and - I like to tell people - especially my family that, if you’ve got a question about something, come to me and ask. And they understand it, and, I mean, they ask me questions about anything. My sister did a research project over PTSD and TBI, yeah, I gave her some information and stuff about it. But, I mean it’s, like I said, you’re seen as a monster. And, as Veterans - I’m speaking for the Veteran’s behalf - we always encourage people to go out and ask us if they’re afraid or, or something and just say “hey, thank you for your service” and actually mean it, and not just do “oh, thank you for your service, we really appreciate it.” Like, go out and learn something. I mean, that‘s what we want.