Wounded Warrior Project Helps Warriors Manage Lingering Effects of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
Returning from Iraq after a convoy accident, Army veteran Lisa Crutch remembered many things that happened during deployment but could not recall many memories from life at home. Her children would show her pictures of places they had visited, but she had no memories to go with the photos.
In addition to partial memory loss, she experienced massive headaches and the loss of her sense of smell. After she recovered from her visible injuries, it took a while to figure out what was going on.
“I didn’t even know what TBI was until I got home and went to VA,” Lisa said. “They asked me how I had gotten from the vehicle to the ground [after the accident], and I told them, ‘I don’t know.’”
Lisa learned from others at the scene that the vehicle she was a front passenger in was going 40 mph when it hit a stopped truck in the middle of a low-visibility sand road. Her head hit the windshield at 40 mph.
“Prior to doing the tests, they were saying I had TBI just from hearing the story,” she said. “They didn’t say, ‘you have traumatic brain injury.’ They said, ‘Sergeant Crutch, you have TBI.’”
Lisa had no idea what TBI meant. She said there was no pamphlet on traumatic brain injury and no further instructions.
For Jason Major, the shrapnel damage and loss of movement in his right arm were just some of the issues he would face after he was injured when his convoy hit an improvised explosive device (IED) near Syria. After six months of surgeries and physical therapy, he recovered some movement, but the invisible injuries were just beginning to surface.
Jason had migraines, anxiety, he feared leaving his house, and eventually lost his job. He says his wife remembers those days more than he’s able to. He had no idea TBI had anything to do with it.
“I was still in the Army and wasn’t checked out fully after the 2005 incident,” Jason said. “I don’t remember all of it, but I do remember I started having migraines, about two or three per week, and memory became an issue.”
He was diagnosed with mild TBI, which explained some of the acute symptoms he had already experienced. While still in the hospital, he remembers staring at the wall for eight hours, feeling listless. The acute symptoms gradually went away, but he still has lingering memory issues.
How Common is TBI in the Military?
The Department of Defense reports 449,000 servicemen and women were diagnosed with some form of TBI between 2000 and 2021.
In the Annual Warrior Survey, 73% of veterans served by Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) report experiencing symptoms of head-related trauma. Furthermore, 36.5% self-reported experiencing TBI.
A traumatic brain injury is characterized as a loss of consciousness or altered mental status caused by a blast, blow, or penetrating force to the head.
The signs of TBI can be difficult to perceive by the injured person, and a diagnosis often requires sifting through other injuries. Unfortunately, the after-effects of this invisible injury can stay with veterans and their families for years to come.
Through help from WWP, both Lisa and Jason found tools to manage TBI symptoms. They also found the words to help explain to others what they experience. That understanding helped them move forward.
Lisa first got involved through WWP’s Warriors to Work program and got help completing her college degree.
“Wounded Warrior Project impacted my life, first of all, because it got me out of my house,” Lisa said. “Second, I was able to complete college and graduate. To me, that was very important. I was able to do that because of the people at Wounded Warrior Project. They made me feel comfortable. They made sure they let me know that you can do whatever it is that you set your mind to do.”
Lisa found connections with other veterans who had endured similar experiences, and eventually participated in Project Odyssey®, a 12-week mental health program that begins with an adventured-based weekend and follows up with weekly checkups.
“When I came back home, I was fighting to be that old Lisa because that’s who everyone knew,” Lisa reflected. “This is me now. I have PTSD. I have TBI. I have two messed up knees and all this stuff wrong with me, but it’s OK. I’m much stronger now than I was prior to it, and I was pretty strong then. I’m a new, improved Lisa.”
Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable
Meanwhile, Jason said he first experienced his transition into the civilian world as avoidance. He avoided other people because he didn’t understand how TBI and PTSD had changed him. His approach shifted when he attended a Project Odyssey.
Jason learned to redefine himself.
“Yes, you’ve been a soldier, but that’s not your defining moment,” he said. “You have more life to live after having been a soldier. There’s more to you as a human than being a soldier.”
The first Project Odyssey he attended taught him about “being a husband and a better human being.” He then went to a couples Project Odyssey with his wife Sabine. Together, they learned about structural changes that happen in the brain after TBI and the chemical changes that can occur with PTSD.
“Understanding what happened helped, and also the team building that centers on good communication between us,” Jason said.
“Now I press myself to go ahead and be comfortable in being uncomfortable. The more you interact, the more you grow as a person.”
Through WWP, Jason also attended intensive outpatient treatment designed for veterans at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Home Base program, part of WWP’s Warrior Care Network®. Through two- to three-week programs, Warrior Care Network provides care tailored to each veteran and family member. It integrates behavioral health care, rehabilitative medicine, wellness, nutrition, mindfulness training, and family support, all at no cost to the warrior.
“During Warrior Care Network, what stood out is how much hard work it was,” Jason said. “It was exhausting, but a good kind of exhaustion. Whether it was group activities, or one-on-one therapy, you had to be there with the frame of mind to better your health – you’re there to get yourself better or, at least, make progress.”
WWP flew Sabine to Boston for the weekend, where she attended sessions and participated in equine therapy with Jason. “It felt great to have her there,” Jason said.
No two cases of TBI are the same. Veterans served by WWP can also avail themselves of assistance through WWP’s Independence Program. Although TBI continues to challenge veterans, warriors like Jason and Lisa show how reaching out for help can benefit them and their families. WWP works to ensure warriors get the care they need, and know they are not alone.
Contact: Raquel Rivas – Public Relations, email@example.com, 904.426.9783
About Wounded Warrior Project
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.