Steven

Age at interview: 53
Outline:

When Steven came home from his first deployment his wife noticed he was not the same and was more closed off than usual. He was beginning to notice other issues like frequent headaches, light sensitivity and hearing loss. Steven was diagnosed with post-concussive syndrome concussive to TBI and after 22 years of service and a career ending leg injury was medically retired from the military. Steven wears hearing aids to help with his hearing loss.

Background:

Military branch: Navy, National Guard

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When Steven came home after his first deployment “not the same person I was when I left,” his wife was the first to notice that something was different and that he “wasn’t really opening up or talking.” Three deployments later Steven was sent home with a career ending injury to his leg and noticeable changes to his personality, especially apparent to his wife who told him “you’re here but you’re not here.”

After 22 years of military service, 11 in the Navy and 11 in the National Guard, Steven was retired from his job as a combat medic and truck commander. He spent three years at Fort Lewis in Washington undergoing surgeries and physical therapy for his leg. It was during this time that he first began to notice issues with his memory, trouble with communication, and generally a “huge disconnection,” the things his wife had first perceived. Other symptoms included trouble sleeping, frequent headaches, light sensitivity, and hearing loss for which he now wears hearing aids. Steven was diagnosed with post concussive syndrome secondary to traumatic brain injury.

After retiring from his military career, Steven spent time working as an ER Technician for a local hospital. He hopes to continue his work in mental health with other Veterans who struggle with similar issues. Steven says the hardest parts of his condition are the headaches and the forgetfulness and how it impacts relationships, especially with his family. To others struggling with brain issues he says, “You have to realize you have a problem in the first place,” and to get help for it. “Don’t say no, don’t put it off.”

 

Steven describes the evaluation process that led to his rating of post-concussive syndrome secondary to TBI.

Steven describes the evaluation process that led to his rating of post-concussive syndrome secondary to TBI.

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They, my ratings say that I have post-concussive syndrome secondary to TBI, is how it reads on my paperwork. I went through a lot of training and they have you do these, I remember these pre-hospital check-off things that you do when you come back through DMOB. You know, “Were you in a hostile environment?” Yeah? Check ‘Yes.’ Okay. “Were you exposed to many explosions?” Yes. “How close were you to these explosions?” Five to ten feet away, you know, and everything like that. And – which is the truth. And “What happened during these explosions? How did you feel?” And I said, “I felt like, you know, the sensation you feel when you can’t hear. Everything’s muffled for a while and it comes up. And then after a while, after a while it’s like I noticed I started my, I started getting a lot more frequent headaches and just migraines that I’ve never had before but when they’d come they’d be whoppers and stuff like that. But I’d get a lot more headaches than I ever used to get in my life and stuff. And they’re bad headaches to the point where it’s like I can’t even walk outside on a sunny day because the light just hurts my eyes and stuff and I just got to be in a dark area. And take aspirin and sometimes aspirin doesn’t cut it, so I just got to like, you know, pretty much tough the pain out and stuff. And I have sleep apnea and all that kind of stuff. It’s just, you know.

 

Steven’s hearing loss makes it harder to communicate with his wife and she gets mad when he doesn’t wear his hearing aids.

Steven’s hearing loss makes it harder to communicate with his wife and she gets mad when he doesn’t wear his hearing aids.

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I’ve lost a significant amount of my hearing, you know? And that doesn’t help with, you know, being married because it’s like, you know, women – I don’t know if you would understand it, but I did some research that women speak in a higher frequency than men speak. And it’s the high frequencies that I can’t hear. And it sounds like she’s mumbling to me. It sounds like, it’s like, it sounds like, you know [covers mouth] [sound effects]. But it’s like, it’s a higher pitch that I can’t hear and everything. And so I have hearing aids. And she gets mad at me if I don’t wear them, you know? Obviously, I’m not wearing them today because I forgot to put them in. And it’s things like that, I forget, you know? And I forget things that I’m supposed to do, you know? I miss appointments and then I get things in the mail saying that you missed an appointment and stuff, you know. And I’m like, “God,” you know, “when can I get this straightened out?” you know?

 

When Steven gets keyed up and anxious, it helps to step outside and go for a walk or close his eyes and take a deep breath.

When Steven gets keyed up and anxious, it helps to step outside and go for a walk or close his eyes and take a deep breath.

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But they helped with, you know – would do these things like – it’s like I can’t even, it’s been a while since I’ve seen or talked with them. But mindfulness and all that kind of stuff. And I find that when I, you know, when I get really keyed up now, and I’ve noticed that when I get really keyed up or I get anxious, that I’ll just step outside, I’ll go for a walk. And I said, “I’ll be back.” And or I’ll go outside and I’ll grab a cigar and, and just go outside a smoke a cigar and just sit there, close my eyes, take in some deep breaths, you know? Well, I didn’t inhale my cigar because you never inhale a cigar. But just taking some deep breaths, close my eyes, and just kind of like you know find a place where I can just calm my inner self. Which is something that I took away from those classes and stuff and everything. But I do feel that I need a lot more work and stuff, you know. And – because I don’t want to get to this point, I don’t want to get to a point where I become explosive because I’ve seen how I’ve, I’ve seen how I can be and it not only scared the people around me, but it scared me.

 

After trying a number of different medications, Steven has found that Effexor does the best job at keeping him on an even keel.

After trying a number of different medications, Steven has found that Effexor does the best job at keeping him on an even keel.

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I went through a, a battery of them. I went through, they first had me on Zyprexa. Then Citalopram. Then Wellbutrin, which made me a raging asshole, excuse my language. I’ve never even seen that kind of rage come out of a person. It’s just like, I got mad and started throwing things. And it’s like, I like to think that, you know, I can control my anger enough to where I wouldn’t hurt anybody, you know. But it scared the crap out of me. And I said, “I got to get this thing under wraps,” and stuff. So, then I went back and they, then they started me on Venlafaxine, Effexor. And Effexor, so far, has kept me on an even keel. And I take seventy-five milligrams now. And then I take Ambien for sleep and what’s the – Prazosin for nightmares and everything.

 

Steven likes group therapy with other Veterans who have had similar experiences more than his one-one-one sessions.

Steven likes group therapy with other Veterans who have had similar experiences more than his one-one-one sessions.

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I gel, I gel pretty much, I gel pretty well in groups because I can relate pretty well with other people that might be having a lot of the same issues and stuff like this. I like one-on-ones. But I think I like groups more because I just feel that, you know, if I can bond with somebody that has the same thing, I feel a lot better, you know. There I have another, I have like another outlet to talk to if I can’t talk to my wife, you know? We can exchange numbers and get to know one another and get to talk, talk to each other and stuff. I feel better in that environment.

 

Steven talks about reintegration programs and services available to Veterans, including the Wounded Warrior Program.

Steven talks about reintegration programs and services available to Veterans, including the Wounded Warrior Program.

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They’re supposed to – the National Guard is supposed to – they have what they call “reintegration games,” OK. Reintegration games and stuff like this. I for one never went through any of that stuff because of the bad taste that I got for the National Guard and everything. I don’t know – there’s a lot of people that I know that are, that have been involved with it and stuff like that. But there’s a lot of other, other programs out there. You’ve got the Wounded Warrior Program; I’m an alumnus of the Wounded Warrior Program, they’ve helped a great deal. You’ve got Operation Home Front, Colish and the Salute Americans Vets, American’s Heroes. All these little companies that were, were started up. It’s like I think they’d been there, they’d been there for the Veterans more than anything else. Especially the Wounded Warrior Project.

 

Steven’s family noticed that he wasn’t the same person he was before his deployment.

Steven’s family noticed that he wasn’t the same person he was before his deployment.

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Sure. The first that I can remember would be after my first deployment. I came home from my first deployment. Obviously not the same person I was when I left. And family noticed that right away. It was, that was – I was gone a whole year and that was the first time my wife and I had been apart that long. And my kids were babies and they were, they were still little. But coming back, you know, I had some, I had some real bad issues and stuff I guess. But it’s like I didn’t think anything was going, was wrong. And everything, I thought everything was cool, you know? Except I wasn’t really opening up or talking. It was just like I’d come home from work and eat dinner, say “hi” to the kids, you know? You know, hugged the kids, hugged the wife, kiss her on the cheek, stuff like that, you know? Have dinner and you know, put the kids to bed and we’d come out and sit and watch T.V.

And one night, my wife goes, is like, “Is this, is this alright? Is this how it’s going to be?” And I’m like, “What do you mean?” and “What’s wrong? What do you want?” She goes, “Well, it’s like I want you to talk to me. And I want you to, to let me know what’s going on with you.” And I said, “No. You don’t want to know what’s going on with me.” And she says, “How are we going to get through this?” And I said, “I don’t know.” And she kind of kept goading me and stuff and I just, I remember breaking down and just saying just like you know, “What do you want? What do you want from me?” I go, “Do you really want to know what I saw there? Do you really want to know what I went through?” And she was just like, you know, she just, shocked look.

And I go, “Okay, here it is.” It’s like, “I had to take care of little kids, mothers and fathers, bringing them in with burns that weren’t burns from a weapon or a, a bomb or anything. These people were physically burning their own children to gain access, to measure us up, our strengths and everything. And I had to take care of these kids and, you know, we could tell they were not regular burns just by the pattern of them.” And then I go, and, and, I just said to myself, “How can people do this to, to their own children and everything? And why, what culture does this?” And I said, and I go and, I go, “I saw so much blood over there.” I go, “I saw more blood than I ever wanted to see in my life, my entire life.”

 

Steven encourages other Veterans to notice when something’s not right in your life, and to seek support from the VA.

Steven encourages other Veterans to notice when something’s not right in your life, and to seek support from the VA.

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It takes a brave person to admit that they go, that he or she has a problem and did not admit it and stuff. I just wish more people would realize that. Then we probably wouldn’t have this issue of the number 22 in suicides. Every 22 minutes, another person commits suicide. It happened to a medic friend of mind coming back from their third deployment. I didn’t know until I got a phone call.

I: What would you say to people to help them sort of realize this?

It’s like you got people, it’s like you’ve been to war. You have to, you have to notice that something’s not right in your life. If you’re snapping at something you’ve never done before, that’s never been a part of you and deep in your subconscious you know that, but you have a block here [motions to head] and that block is just not letting you recognize that something’s going on, even when other people are telling you that, “You’re acting differently. You’re so different than when, than when you were before you went,” and everything like that. It’s like, “Oh, really? No, no. It’s like I don’t think anything’s wrong.” When you see, when you hear people and your friends start to, you know, saying stuff like that – or have you, question you, “Have you ever sought help at the VA for these things that you’re talking to me about?” “Well, no.” Then that’s when you need to go. Don’t say no, don’t put it off. Go.