Traumatic brain injury or TBI has been called the signature injury of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Defense Department data indicates more than 233,000 veterans have been diagnosed with at least a mild brain injury. But the number is even higher because not all veterans seek help. A non-profit and the VA have partnered to offer support to these servicemembers in Connecticut.
Gabor Kautzner is an Iraq war veteran. He served from 2004 to 2005, stationed in an area known as the Sunni triangle. His unit was responsible for transporting fuel. The convoys were heavily guarded but that doesn't mean they were immune from improvised explosive devices. "IEDs were very new then and very prevalent. What happened was an IED went off in between the trucks when we were doing a convoy. I went back to FOB (forward operating base) Speicher, I laid my head down and I woke up with blood everywhere. I guess the concussion blew out my eardrum."
He also got migraines. When he got back to the U.S, doctors told him he had lost the hearing in his right ear and he was diagnosed with mild TBI. To this day, Kautzner deals with occasional short term memory loss. After he left the service he became an outreach specialist with the New Haven Veterans Center. There he saw veterans struggling with readjustment because of TBI. "Acronyms can really stigmatize military people. When you say TBI, traumatic brain injury a lot of people associate that with you know 'I'll never have another job, nobody will ever hire me."
To help servicemembers get over this stigma, Kautzner partnered with the Brain Injury Alliance of Connecticut to create a support group, Veterans with Combat Concussions. Attendance is sporadic but Kautzner stresses a lot of the veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are young, they want to get on with their lives and not dwell on symptoms including memory loss and headaches. Kautzner tries to stress to them that getting treatment now could make a huge difference later on as they age. The Brain Injury Alliance of Connecticut, formerly known as the Brain Injury Association of Connecticut, operates a helpline for any resident who's needs help connecting to resources. More information at www.biact.org.