Veteran who sustained TBI helps fellow service members with brain injury care

When he was 23, former Army Staff Sgt. Randy Gross was riding in a Jeep with his friends. The top was down and his seat belt was off.

“We weren’t going very fast, so I wasn’t that concerned about it,” Randy said. But then the unexpected happened.

“We hit this bump, and I hit the windshield. Putting that seatbelt on, it would’ve kept me from running into the windshield,” he said.

Randy flew from the back seat and knocked his head on the windshield of the vehicle, sustaining a traumatic brain injury (TBI). This was not his first brain injury. Throughout his life, Randy was diagnosed with multiple TBIs from sports- and training-related events. His experience is familiar to many of those in the military community: The vast majority of military TBIs are diagnosed in nondeployed settings, and motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of the injury.  

Randy made a full recovery and continued serving in the Army until 2006. After his accident, he vowed to always wear his seatbelt and take other precautions to avoid TBI. Now he urges others in the military community to do the same through his work at the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC).

Randy has been a DVBIC regional education coordinator since 2010. In his role, he connects with service members, veterans and their families who are coping with TBI, using his own experiences to relate to his patients and show them that recovery is possible. Randy regularly shares free DVBIC resources with them, like the Healthy Sleep fact sheet and a booklet with tips for talking with children about TBI.

“One of the single most important things that I recommend to the TBI patients that I meet with is that this is the new you. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to be completely different for the rest of your life; it just means that you’re going to have to do things a little bit differently,” Randy said. “It doesn’t change who we are, it just changes a little bit of our behaviors that we have to work with, that we have to cope with, on a daily basis sometimes.”

To learn more about the TBI support available to service members and veterans, you can access DVBIC resources here. You can also meet with a regional education coordinator like Randy at regional DVBIC locations across the country and in Landstuhl, Germany. DVBIC offers a complete a list of DVBIC regional sites online.