• 5 Facts a USMC Veteran Wants You to Know About Service Dogs
    Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on Oct. 23, 2017
    Retired United States Marine Corps Sergeant Major James A. Kuiken was paired with Freedom, a service dog who supports veterans with post-traumatic stress (PTS) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Freedom empowers Kuiken to reconnect with family and friends, while recapturing the life he had withdrawn from, as he recovered from PTS and TBI.Like other combat veterans, Kuiken thought he could manage his health on his own and it was not until he took a PTS/TBI survey from a veteran’s organization that he realized he was experiencing ongoing symptoms. For Kuiken, this was an indicator he needed help, so he researched service dogs to learn how they could recognize his PTS or TBI signs and support his recovery. From Kuiken’s experience with Freedom, the general public is unfamiliar with how service dogs assist veterans, so he provided A Head for the Future five facts everyone should know about service dogs:Service Dogs Are WorkingService dogs such as Freedom support their handler, and while they may not appear to be working, they are always on the clock and it is a full time job! To assist Freedom in performing his job well, let him stay focused and allow him personal space to work effectively.Service Dogs Are Medical EquipmentDistracting a service dog by talking, petting or drawing attention to them can impede the task they are trying to perform. The best approach to interacting with Freedom or another service dog is politely ignoring them. Yes, we know Freedom is cute, but a service dog is considered medical equipment, so please do not engage with them, as their primary responsibility is supporting their handler.Service Dogs Are A LifelineService dogs like Freedom help guide handlers through difficult situations, so they can walk through crowds, be calm during times of ambient noises or movement, and experience comfort in times of distress. In addition to providing cognitive support, service dogs can assist handlers with physical tasks such as balance, coordination and the retrieving of dropped objects. Combined, the integration of mental, physical and emotional assistance creates a sense of security and independence with their handler.Service Dogs Are Protected Under LawFederal law protects service dogs and their handlers under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which allows Freedom and Kuiken to access areas of a facility where the public is allowed to go. For this reason, staff are not allowed to inquire about a handler’s disabilities, require medical documentation, request a special identification card or training documentation for service dogs.Service Dogs Are LovedEven though service dogs are working, they are very much loved by their handlers. Freedom is well taken care of and some may say he’s better off than most pets because he is highly trained, self-aware of his surroundings, and wakes up each day with a purpose. Furthermore, Freedom and Kuiken have a bond that is bigger than his role as a service dog — it is deeper because Freedom helps Kuiken reclaim his life as he is recovering from PTS and TBI.These are just a few tips handlers would like everyone to know about interacting with their service dogs. For more information on the topic of service dogs, check out the Americans with Disabilities Act policies for service animals.To read more compelling stories of recovery and hope from other service members and veterans, visit blogs on the A Head for the Future website. Have a TBI experience to share with our team? Submit your story by email today.
  • Technical sergeant overcomes TBI and returns to duty
    Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on Oct. 4, 2017
    Eighteen months ago, U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Tuepker was living an active life as a service member, wife and mother of two children. But one night in January 2016, she experienced the unexpected. While putting clothes away, she hit her head on the lip of the dresser. After regaining her bearings, she brushed the incident aside.The next day, Jennifer felt so ill that a co-worker brought her to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with a mild concussion. A month later, Jennifer’s symptoms weren’t getting any better.“I started losing feeling in my extremities,” Jennifer said. “I was experiencing tingling in my face and frequent exhaustion.”Eventually, Jennifer was referred to a traumatic brain injury (TBI) clinic, where she received an MRI that revealed a Chiari malformation in addition to a concussion. By identifying this structural defect, the TBI clinic started Jennifer on her path to recovery.Jennifer learned that she needed surgery to correct the displacement of her cerebral tonsils. “[The surgeon] explained that there was herniation that was actually putting pressure on the brain stem,” Jennifer said. “If I didn’t get surgery, there was a chance that I could become paralyzed.”Jennifer underwent a successful surgery in May 2016, listened to her doctor and followed the postsurgery recovery instructions — including the most important direction to rest. As a result, she was able to return to work full time by July, and was released from the neurosurgeon’s care in September, just four months after her surgery. She still receives physical therapy for her neck.Jennifer is grateful for the support she received from family members and friends throughout her recovery. “My husband and kids were there through it all,” she said. “My dad was at the hospital for the surgery. I had a neighbor that took care of me during the day when my husband was at work. Everybody has been very supportive and constantly checking in on me.”“Luckily [my doctors] caught it early,” Jennifer said. “I was treated for the TBI and malformation early enough that there was no permanent brain damage.” Jennifer was declared fit for duty in April 2017, less than a year after her surgery, and will finish the remaining five years of her current enlistment contract.Visit the Stories page on the A Head for the Future website to hear more compelling stories of recovery and hope from other service members and veterans. Have a story to share with our team? Submit your story by email today.
  • Former Special Operations Staff Sergeant Heals With Help of Fellow Military Member
    Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on Aug. 23, 2017
    While he recovered from sustaining a traumatic brain injury (TBI) after falling 50 feet during a training jump, former Staff Sergeant Brian Grundtner was missing one thing: sleep. Determined to find a solution, Grundtner went to the Concussion Care Clinic where he started therapy with licensed clinical social worker Dr. Brooke Heintz, a major in the North Carolina National Guard.“I definitely brought up my sleep issues and how they were worse now than they were before,” Grundtner said. “I had to step forward and help myself. I had to put myself first so that I could make everybody else around me stronger.”For those who have experienced TBI, getting enough sleep is a key element of recovery.  Heintz helped Grundtner address his sleep issues and shared tools to help. Grundtner underwent sleep hygiene training and learned new ways get a good night’s sleep.“Once I started sleeping better, I could feel myself getting better,” he said.Heintz said she takes tremendous pride in aiding her brothers and sisters in the military community. “I think that there is a huge misperception about a referral to a behavioral health provider,” she said. “[Brian] was referred to me for sleep hygiene training.” She stressed that not everyone who seeks treatment or care is experiencing behavioral problems.Since finishing his treatments with Heintz nearly two years ago, Grundtner has seen positive results. He graduated from an MBA program, settled into a thriving career, and got married. Grundtner said that it’s people like Heintz and his wife, Michelle, who keep him grounded in harder times.As he continues to make progress in his recovery and cope – with the support of his wife –  Grundtner offered up some words of encouragement for some of his colleagues struggling with TBI.“[This injury] allowed me to see areas in my life that needed to be tended to,” he said. “You don’t have to say ‘well this is my new normal and I can’t change it.’ You define your normal.”Visit Stories on the A Head for the Future website to hear more compelling stories of recovery and hope from other service members and veterans. Have a story to share with our team? Submit your story by email today.