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Friday, September 30, 2011
Invisible injuries of war to be felt for decades
From Stars & Stripes:
Sixty-six percent of the most seriously wounded soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq have “invisible” injuries of brain trauma or post-traumatic stress, which their families and society will be dealing with at great cost for decades, said Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the Army’s vice chief of staff.
“The truth is, because we don’t see these injuries…they don’t receive the same level of attention as amputations, burns, shrapnel injuries,” Chiarelli said. “There is simply a bias – and I really mean that -- there is a bias either conscious or subconscious toward invisible wounds and injuries…It exists everywhere including in the medical community.”
Chiarelli made his remarks Monday at Defense Forum Washington, a one-day conference on support for wounded warriors and families as they struggle to heal and regain stable lives. The annual event is co-sponsored by U.S. Naval Institute and Military Officers Association of American.
Before Chiarelli spoke, April Marcum, wife of retired Air Force Tech Sgt. Tom Marcum, described for attendees how her husband saw that bias from the medical community when he returned wounded from Iraq in 2008. A combat arms training and maintenance specialist with 12 years in service, Tom had been in charge of an armory on Ali Air Base Iraq when a mortar round fired by insurgents exploded 35 yards away, knocking him unconscious.
When he could, Tom called April to say that, except for a headache, he was okay. A medic told him he should rest a couple of days before returning to duty. But when Tom’s tour ended several weeks later and he returned to Moody Air Force Base, Ga., April could tell he wasn’t himself.
“He still had the same headache. He was confused at simple things. He had short-term memory loss. The last straw for me was the day he called me on his way from work … and said, ‘I can’t remember how to get home,’ ” April recalled, tearing up. Tom, at her side, let April speak for the family.
“The local medical community, including the Air Force medical clinic doctor, seemed to be reluctant to help,” April continued. “Tom’s primary care doctor implied Tom was trying to get out of work. This was a slap in the face to both of us” considering that, with two boys to raise, neither Marcum had ever complained during any Tom’s various deployments.
“Then the doctor made this statement: ‘I’ll write you a prescription for Motrin but you really need to suck it up and go back to work,’ ” April said.
They pressed for an appointment with the medical group commander. Eventually Tom got a thorough evaluation at the poly-trauma unit of the VA Medical Center in Tampa, Fla. Doctors diagnosed traumatic brain injury with an orbital wall blowout fracture behind an eye. A shoulder required surgery. Tom also had hearing loss, vision deficit and post-traumatic stress disorder.
He spent months in Tampa and “received outstanding medical treatment,” April said. He was medically retired from the Air Force in May 2010. Three years after returning from war, Tom remains on the temporary duty retirement list awaiting word on whether the Air Force will retire him permanently. April said she had to quit her teaching job to care for her husband and raise their sons. While living on 70-percent disability payment from the Air Force, and Social Security Disability Insurance, the Marcums have exhausted their life savings, she said.
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