Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on Sept. 3, 2020
Inspired by his sister’s service in the Marine Corps nearly 20 years ago, Marine Corps veteran Micah Norgard spent 12 years as an infantryman, serving in a variety of roles and locations. But his biggest battle was in recognizing the cumulative effects of 21 potentially concussive event exposures and multiple undiagnosed traumatic brain injuries. That journey took him from years of internal conflict to a diagnosis at VA and, ultimately, finding daily healing as a yoga instructor.Norgard’s first TBI resulted from an assault by a fellow Marine. During deployments to Iraq, frequent exposure to the blast impacts of mortar and IED (improvised explosive device) explosions contributed to his additional TBIs. Although Norgard realized he was injured, his condition was undiagnosed for nearly two decades — unaware of TBI symptoms and long-term effects, or the extensive research on TBIs by the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center as well as the resources available to properly support his recovery.“I could go into each individual one, but … these were internal wounds that we weren't taught about,” Norgard said. “In the time that I was coming up, it was part of that ‘man-up’ phase where we didn’t talk about mental health, we didn't talk about brain injuries or anything like that. We just saw it as part of what we signed up for.”After he returned from his first deployment to Iraq, Norgard noticed some physical changes, including slurred speech. Various symptoms and conditions followed. “My vision was just ... like everything was not right. It felt like everything had just been shifted out of me a little bit — energy, vision, thought. Everything just totally just shifted, like literally blasted a little bit out of me,” Norgard said.Then came the changes in behavior, personality and mood. Norgard aid it was “…almost like sharp knives penetrating me constantly, and I would react to them instead of being able to control them.” This drastic shift was challenging to manage.“I was a very introverted person as a kid, very silent. And here's this person who is now very vocal, very confrontational, very angry at all things all the time,” Norgard said. “And as I later came to tell my students, it’s this buffer that we build through resiliency, and all that resiliency that was trained and was just gone. All the emotions just ran rampant.”Exercise and participating in marathons was Norgard’s main way of relieving stress, but when he injured his ankle and could no longer run, he became curious about an ancient art: yoga. Encouraged by a social media post that showed a number of intricate poses, he began practicing individually with a 30-day challenge. He was hooked.“I started to feel something in my physical body I hadn’t felt before — an awareness. And along the line I started to feel this softening, this softening of anxiety. A lightness to my body would come, especially the longer and more I breathed,” Norgard said. “There’s a ton of concentration techniques that we utilize to sharpen that concentration muscle, like flexing a muscle.”Through yoga, he began to process all the trauma he had experienced throughout his military career, to understand the extent of his injuries and, eventually, to seek help. He was finally evaluated at VA nearly two years ago, and his diagnosis of multiple TBI was validating, leading to a variety of treatments. Group therapy and hearing the stories of other veterans in his community was empowering and supplemented prescribed medications — at one point, as many as 34 pills per day.“I would not change anything about the path that I took through Western modalities into the less Western modalities of yoga and other types of healing arts,” Norgard said. “I think it's a combination of both, but I think now what Western medicine couldn’t do, the Eastern — in the form of yoga healing arts — is finishing.”He regained a sense of community and healing through the practice of yoga. Later, as an instructor, the healing process reached a deeper level. “It was honestly the first time in my entire life, adult life especially, that I truly felt accepted for all my weirdness, all my traumas, all my injuries,” Norgard said. “Everything that made me, I truly felt accepted here — not only accepted, I felt seen and I felt heard. And that is just the entire vibe of this place.”Norgard is undaunted by the journey ahead in managing his condition, confident in the tools and support from his family, his partner, Damien, and new friends he’s made.“No matter what, it takes work to heal. … Just be patient with yourself. … Progress is progress, and the moment you think you have it, just like a balancing posture in yoga, the moment you think you got it and you stop making the constant little shifts, you’re going to fall. It’s the same thing with our mental health. Our TBI is something that you just have to balance constantly for your entire life.”Hear more compelling stories of TBI recovery and hope on the A Head for the Future website. Are you wondering about TBI signs and symptoms? Check out this DVBIC TBI fact sheet.Have a story to share with our team? Submit your story by email today.
Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on July 29, 2020
Army Special Operations veteran Derek Poor was living his American dream, serving his country and leading soldiers through dozens of challenging missions. However, the cumulative effect of minor traumatic brain injuries (TBI) was impossible to dismiss after he slammed into a wall during training. Seeing stars and unable to shake his persistent, daily headaches, Poor finally sought help.Poor praised his family for recognizing his challenges and encouraging additional medical assessments and treatments.“So the decision point for me to continue to press and see someone else came at the urging of my wife,” he said. “She recognized that I was in great pain every day, regardless of the medication that I was being prescribed, the physical therapy. … I wasn’t getting the results we were looking for.”After seven years of slow but steady progress in treating his TBI, Poor was inspired to share his story at a community meeting after he heard Marsheila Tincher, a Regional Education Coordinator for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, speak. Tincher told the group about the importance of understanding a veteran’s employability after they’ve experienced a TBI and Poor spoke up about his personal journey. Tincher, whose own family has experience with TBI, was impressed with Poor’s story. She noted that some veterans — especially those in the special operations community — attempt to mask their TBI symptoms and avoid seeking help as early as they should to improve their recovery process.“Our veteran community needs to hear that story … The story of treatment and success in life after the military,” Tincher said. “Commands and the community need to hear his experience so that those who follow in his footsteps can benefit from his experience.” Poor’s diagnosis was key to gaining his family’s support. Even a quick hand signal let his kids know when they were too noisy on long car trips. And he learned to wear headphones and listen to music during volleyball games so that he could be present without feeling pain — induced by the persistent squeak of sneakers and shrill peals of whistles.“With the diagnosis of TBI, it was helpful in them coming to understand why I acted the way I did at times — some of the things they saw me doing or not doing,” Poor said.He was fortunate to have spent most of his career at Fort Campbell, with access to its Intrepid Spirit Center. The center focuses on an interdisciplinary, integrated, holistic and collaborative assessment, treatment and rehabilitation program for patients with complex, comorbid medical conditions, particularly those with PTSD and/or postconcussive symptoms.Poor acknowledged that it can be difficult for some veterans to come forward with a TBI.“I think it’s a challenge for service members or veterans to talk about their TBI because it’s an unseen injury,” he said. “It’s not like a missing appendage — and so it’s very different. When your head hurts every day, it impacts your life.”He believes his willingness to talk about his journey — and even wearing unique eyeglasses that prompted questions from other veterans — has helped open the door to more open discussions about his condition. Poor also benefited from supportive leaders who not only allowed him time to get the treatments he needed — including physical therapy, eyeglasses and hearing aids for noise sensitivity — but also ensured that the intensity of his military work was appropriate for where he was in his recovery process. That accommodation required an open and honest dialog with trusted medical professionals, his leaders and himself.“They saw the impact the injury had on me and asked what was more important: my health or my career. They put my health first, before anything — even before I did,” Poor said. “And because of my time and experience, and the relationship we had, they allowed me to move around within the unit so that I could best impact the mission.”Taking control of your health is one step in the recovery process. Poor recommends keeping a journal to gain a better understanding of TBI symptoms.“If you can write down what’s happening each day, what you’re putting into your body, what are your activities, is your pain increasing and if you are starting to see a detriment in your performance — I think that’s huge, because that then helps that medical professional make the right decision in what level treatment you might need,” he said.Hear more compelling stories of TBI recovery and hope on the A Head for the Future website. Are you wondering about TBI signs and symptoms? Check out this DVBIC fact sheet.Have a story to share with our team? Submit your story by email today.
Posted by Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on June 4, 2020
It was a stunning revelation in an old family journal: For Marsheila Tincher, it brought home the challenges of veterans living with traumatic brain injury, no matter when they served. And ultimately, the similarities between past and current veterans’ experiences increased her interest in becoming a Regional Education Coordinator for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center.The journal belonged to Tincher’s father-in-law, who served in the Army and participated in the June 1944 Normandy landings. The journal documented his TBIs and the effects of what we recognize today as post-traumatic stress disorder.“He was a very kind man, but the internal turmoil that he wrote about was phenomenal,” Tincher said. “It’s not a lot different from what I hear from our soldiers, sailors or Marines who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, what they were living with.”Early in Tincher’s career, it was her Marine patients who first taught her about TBI signs and symptoms. “As a licensed social worker for 20 years, part of my personal professional bucket list was to work with the military,” Tincher said. “I started with Camp Lejeune [Marine Corps base] and loved clinical work. … It was the right thing to do at that time.”It was the memory of her family’s challenges in getting specialized care for their injuries over the decades that solidified her devotion to TBI education and helping other veterans get the care they need. “Both my father and father-in-law had [head] injuries,” Tincher said. “What was known in the medical community at the time was different than what we know now. … We’ve made advances in leaps and bounds.”In Tincher’s current job at the Fort Campbell Intrepid Spirit Center, her focus is on training providers and planning to brief deploying service members. When she arrived two years ago, she built the program from scratch. “I was the first person from DVBIC to be [assigned] here in a number of years,” Tincher said. “It took a while to figure out which doors would be open, which has been an ongoing process.”At the Intrepid Spirit Center, part of Blanchfield Army Community Hospital on Fort Campbell straddling the border between Kentucky and Tennessee, Tincher and the other staff members focus on the interdisciplinary, integrated, holistic and collaborative assessment, treatment and rehabilitation program for patients with complex, co-morbid medical conditions, particularly those with PTSD and/or post-concussive symptoms. She takes this task seriously.Tincher works primarily with providers and the local community. She also gives periodic briefings to the Warrior Transition Battalion, which supports service members in their transition back to either active duty or civilian life. She continually provides information at not only Fort Campbell but also a wide range of locations in the area.“We have clinics off-post, so I travel [to places like] Louisville and Fort Thomas, and it also includes VA centers,” she said. “Although it’s a lot more isolated here, the veteran community is very strong and supportive.”In describing a normal day, Tincher asserts, despite the challenges of a demanding job and an unpredictable schedule, the memories of her family members’ challenges propel her forward.“I’ve worked longer and harder in this job than any other one I’ve had, including going to school,” Tincher said. “But it’s one of those things that I feel is so vitally important, and that we don’t let history repeat itself and stop caring for veterans and our friends and neighbors who had had a concussion. The more people that know what we do, and know that there’s resources out there … the better able we are to meet the goal in the medical field, which is to reduce suffering at all levels — physical, spiritual, behavioral and relational.”DVBIC employs more than a dozen regional education coordinators throughout the United States and in Germany to provide additional support to service members, veterans and families in areas around selected military treatment facilities.Hear more compelling stories of TBI recovery and hope on the A Head for the Future website. Are you wondering about TBI signs and symptoms? Check out this DVBIC fact sheet.Have a story to share with our team? Submit your story by email today.