Operation Headed Home addresses traumatic brain injury, PTSD

FORT KNOX, Ky. — Wounded Warriors, their caregivers and health professionals were given a unique opportunity to share and learn during the 2nd annual Operation: Headed Home conference held at Fort Knox on Oct. 14.

Encounters with IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan are the primary cause for traumatic brain injury among US troops.

Designed to address traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder, the conference was sponsored by the Kentucky Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities and representatives from federal, military, state and professional organizations across Kentucky.

More than 240 Service members, Veterans, military Families, caregivers and behavioral health professionals were in attendance, to share information, resources, and support regarding TBI and PTSD.

“It was important to show the providers what the military is going through, to give them a little taste of what’s going on in Afghanistan and Iraq,” said Cody Stagner, medical outreach coordinator for the Kentucky National Guard.  “It also gave Soldiers an opportunity to better understand the issues they’re going through and to find the multiple resources to help them cope with their injuries.”

To give perspective, nearly 800 Kentucky troops were diagnosed with TBI in a survey ranging from 2007-2011.  That’s in the Louisville and Lexington areas alone.

TBI isn’t limited to military personnel.  Nearly 32,000 Kentuckians — civilian and military — sustained a traumatic brain injury in 2010, according to a University of Kentucky report.

The effects of TBI can be devastating.  In addition to persistent headaches and short-term memory loss, emotional issues can arise, complicating problems with concentration and organization, thereby disrupting the Soldier’s personal and professional life; family members, caregivers, employers and friends all share in the suffering.

Operation Headed Home featured a panel of Soldiers and family members that discussed the conditions troops incurred while in country.  Family members talked about the obstacles they faced in caring for their loved ones; they also shared in their success stories.

“Everyone was eager to learn and excited to be there,” said Stagner.  “There were a lot of questions and it was interesting to hear what the participants were most interested in.  That’s important as it will help us improve our approach and put on a better conference next time.”

Capt. Philip Majcher was part of a discussion panel on resiliency within the family.  The Suicide Prevention Program Manager for the Kentucky Guard, Majcher said the conference provided an open environment that encouraged collaboration between participants.

“Active duty, National Guard, civilian providers, and family members were able to present what they offered,” he said.  “The attendees were able to ask questions and talk about issues they have been working with themselves.  By the end of the time, everyone was off their seats and sharing notes and laying out plans for the future.”

Providers and Service Members alike were briefed on post traumatic stress and post traumatic growth as well as mild traumatic brain injury.  Majcher was optimistic that the conference would spark action among attendees.

“What started as a panel discussion became a working group,” he said.

“The panel discussion helped show how PTSD is a real issue, as is TBI,” said Jay Mattingly, care coordinator supervisor for the Kentucky Army National Guard.  “These topics are being taken seriously and the military is working hard to address the mental health needs of our Soldiers.”

Another conference is being considered for next spring at Fort Campbell.  Information will be posted at kentuckyguard.com as soon as possible.

For more information on TBI and PTSD contact Cody Stagner at cody.stagner@us.army.mil or call him at 502-607-1154.

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