Commentary: Remember to honor military, vets with ‘invisible wounds’

By Dr. Chrisanne Gordon

May was National Military Appreciation Month, an annual opportunity for us to honor veterans and active-duty members of our military services. This observance takes on special meaning in a year disrupted by COVID-19 because so many on the front lines of the pandemic are also active-duty military or veterans now protecting us on a different kind of battlefield.

Thousands now serving their nation heroically as medical caregivers and first responders honed their skills in military service, sometimes under the stress of combat conditions. Recent months have also seen active-duty military called to assist in the pandemic.

Chrisanne Gordon

As we salute them, we must also remember thousands of veterans who continue to struggle with service-related injuries, including traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder, which is a form of brain injury. Nearly 450,000 combat veterans have returned from tours in either Iraq or Afghanistan with TBI. All are struggling with a potentially devastating, outwardly invisible consequence of service to our nation.

Because many of these veterans have had great difficulty receiving medical assistance for these wounds of war, I founded the Resurrecting Lives Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to seeing that combat veterans with TBI receive medical care, rehabilitation and community support services they need for a successful return to civilian life. Our goal, put another way, is to keep our former military service members in service to their families and communities by collaborating for their brain health.

As a rehabilitation physician and someone who has worked to recover from a serious brain injury of my own (not service-related), I empathize with these injured veterans and their families. Their injuries are greater; their resources are limited. But from my dual perspective of having treated TBI patients while also having lived firsthand with those dark days of depression, I know just how challenging it can be to summon up the motivation and courage to find a new normal – to “turn the lights back on” in a world grown dark.

If you or someone you know is a veteran who is experiencing one or more signs of traumatic brain injury – headache, blurred vision, difficulty with bright light, ringing in the ears, excessive tiredness, memory loss or poor concentration – seek medical help for yourself or your loved one as early as possible. The good news is that TBI is treatable and its symptoms are manageable with proper treatment.

For those struggling with TBI, you must be the light for which they are searching.

Dr. Chrisanne Gordon is a physician who has personally struggled to recover from a brain injury, an experience that inspired her to create the national Resurrecting Lives Foundation to help military veterans recover from TBI.