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Battle continues after deployment, traumatic brain injuries common among Soldiers

July 8, 2011

By Nondice Thurman, Fort Campbell Courier

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (July 8, 2011) -- Improvised explosive devices are a common part of life for deployed service members. They aren’t picky about who they target and are meant to cause destruction. They are also just one of many ways a service member can end up with a traumatic brain injury.

There are many Soldiers at Fort Campbell battling varying degrees of TBI. For some, issues are minor and only last a short time frame. For others, there are greater challenges and it is a never-ending battle. One Soldier at Fort Campbell taking that battle head on is Spc. Brad Vineyard, a petroleum supply specialist.

Vineyard was deployed with the 541st Transportation Company, 106th Transportation Battalion, 101st Sustainment Brigade. It was five to six months into his deployment to Afghanistan when he was the gunner in a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle that was struck with an IED that was between 250 to 300 pounds. The vehicle took heavy damage, but every one of the Soldiers in the vehicle walked away from the blast.

“I happened to be in the gunner’s turret when it went off,” said Vineyard. “They checked me at the scene. You’ve got a truck full of guys that aren’t bleeding out of their extremities and they’ll say, ‘I’m good.’ They cross loaded us into another MRAP and we continued the mission.”

Vineyard wasn’t “good” though. It would be two days before their supply mission was over and his unit would return to Camp Leatherneck.

“For two days I was pretty much just sucking it up,” said Vineyard. “When the blast happened … it initially picked us up. I slammed my knee into the turret. I came back down and slammed both my elbows down. It sliced my elbow open. I smashed my head on the backside of the rhino mount. It knocked me out.”

When his unit returned to Camp Leatherneck, he was sent to the concussion clinic there. He explained he couldn’t say if it was a good or a bad experience. He had bruises to show for his injuries, but there was still a sense of a stigma attached to an injury you couldn’t see and he wanted to continue to do his job.

“When you’re downrange the last thing you want is to be stuck in your room or hospital or whatever when you don’t have any visible injuries,” said Vineyard. “I think for the most part we were just trying to get back out there.”

He knew there was something wrong other than the injuries he could see. He knew some things were different, but it wasn’t something he pinpointed on his own. It would be those closest to him who noticed the most. They encouraged him to get the help he needed.

“It was actually the guys that were in my unit, the guys that were in my platoon, who came to me and said you need to go get checked out because you’re not the same,” said Vineyard. “They were right because there were things I wasn’t telling people. The guys I lived with would come to me to check out tools … and I would just sit and stare at them because I couldn’t think of what their names were.”

“That’s not good,” Vineyard explained.

Another sign was a change in the way he was around others. He withdrew from the group and didn’t interact like he did before.

“I was always the kind of guys that was telling stories and jokes and kind of being the peacemaker, just kind of keeping everybody’s mood light-hearted,” said Vineyard. “After that I just stopped talking to people. I didn’t really want to be around a lot of people.”

It was the support he received from his unit that helped him start getting the help he needed.

“They were really, really supportive and that helped a lot,” he said. “The mentality of the Army is unless you have visible scars or damage to you, people want to tell you to suck it up and move on. These guys weren’t like that. They said ‘Dude, go get fixed.’”

“They weren’t like that,” he added. “With the guys that I’m around and living with telling me that it made me feel good about seeking treatment.”

The IED had left him with side effects he didn’t understand. He didn’t know why he felt some of what he did.

“I was pissed off,” he said. “I was confused. There were just lots of things that I felt and I didn’t have any clue as to why I felt that way. Those were things I noticed, but other things my roommate pointed out to me. I figured if somebody else can see it, it’s bad enough that I probably need to get it checked out.”

It wouldn’t be until after Vineyard went on rest and recuperation and returned to his unit that he would be medevaced and sent back to the U.S. for treatment. Because of the IED, he started having more and more issues with his knee. At first he just assumed it came with getting older.

“I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m not a spring chicken,” said Vineyard. “I kind of figured it was old age.”

He had been back one day and went to sick call. His unit was preparing to go out on another mission. He was sent to a nearby British camp where the doctors told him he would have to go home. His knee was bad enough he would have to return for surgery.

It was while Vineyard was in Germany on his way back to the U.S. when it was officially confirmed he had a TBI. The medical staff talked with him about where he was going and some of his upcoming treatment.

“Germany had a lot of great things to say about Fort Campbell,” he said. “I got there and they told me I definitely had a TBI and asked me where I was going. I told them Fort Campbell and they said ‘No problem. That’s like the premiere TBI place to be.’ And so far it’s been great. I’ve learned lots of things ¬

Vineyard returned to the U.S. in February. He started his treatment with all the providers at the TBI clinic in April after he had surgery on his knee and completed his convalescent leave. He is well on his way toward completing his treatment and is learning ways to cope with the problems.

“I can’t say enough good things about this place,” he said. “Just the methods for staying on top of my appointments or just [other] little things. People’s names, places. Generally before I would…come on post and think I was coming here and I would end up on the other side of post. I have to think about the things I’m going to do. I have to really put a lot of thought into planning, which is fine. It’s not that difficult. I just have to actually take the time to plan my day and put little reminders to myself. ‘This is what you’re doing on this day. This is where you need to be. This is what you need to have.’ It’s helped a lot.”

He wants other Soldiers to have the courage to recognize they have an issue or to tell their buddies to seek help if they are the ones with an issue. He admits it may be difficult, especially when there are others who have visible injuries, but that it is a stigma you have to get past.

“I think…it’s hard for [Soldiers] to say ‘Hey there’s something wrong with me’ or ‘I need help.’ For me, I’m at the [Warrior Transition Unit] and I look over and I see this guy’s missing a freaking leg and he’s out running everyday and I feel like a big wuss saying ‘something’s wrong with me.’’’

“I think there’s probably a lot of guys out there like me…If you were to meet me on the street, you would probably think that nothing ever happened to me,” said Vineyard. “There’s probably a lot of Soldiers coming back that aren’t fine. If they can get diagnosed and come over here, I’m telling you it helps a lot.”

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