SILVER SPRING, Maryland | ­Former Army Sgt. Wendell Guillermo sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in Iraq when his unit was hit by a grenade. Army Sgt. 1st Class Bradley Lee sustained a brain injury during a firefight in Afghanistan. Their compelling stories of recovery are featured this Brain Injury Awareness Month through A Head for the Future — a TBI awareness initiative from the Department of Defense. Video stories about Guillermo, Lee and other TBI champions are featured at A Head for the Future and on A Head for the Future's YouTube channel.
“During Brain Injury Awareness Month and beyond, we want our military community to know that recovery from a TBI is possible. Wendell’s and Bradley’s compelling stories are proof,” said Dr. Scott Livingston, director of education at the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. “Each TBI is different, not everyone experiences the same symptoms or requires identical treatment. I encourage people in the military community to obtain early diagnosis, evaluation and treatment of TBI when possible.”
The spotlight of the videos launches a variety of activities to recognize Brain Injury Awareness Month this month. Along with the videos, A Head for the Future is highlighting additional stories through a #TBIchampions social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter. The campaign includes images and quotes from military health care professionals, health care staff, leaders of the DOD and the Department of Veterans Affairs, and others who share insights about their work to prevent, diagnose and treat TBI.
According to recent DOD data, since 2000 more than 375,000 service members have been diagnosed with TBI — most occurring in noncombat incidents such as training accidents, falls, motor vehicle collisions and sports-related incidents.
Despite experiencing some of the common symptoms of TBI including headaches, irritability, memory loss and sensitivity to light and sound following an incident in combat, Guillermo soldiered on. Years later, he was diagnosed with a mild to moderate TBI. The diagnosis allowed him to learn more about ways to manage his symptoms. Today, he has found success in his career and stays active to cope with the effects of TBI.
“You have to be very proactive in order to address TBI. The earlier you attack it, the better it is for the veteran overall in the long haul,” Guillermo said. “The whole premise here is getting the help that you rightfully deserve for serving your country.”
While deployed in Afghanistan, Lee sustained a TBI during a firefight. He didn't know he was injured and downplayed the severity of the incident. When Lee returned stateside, his wife, Jennifer, noticed that he was experiencing memory loss. After Lee returned to Afghanistan from leave home, Jennifer called his sergeant major to share her concerns and request a medical checkup for her husband. Lee was subsequently diagnosed with TBI. He's thankful that his wife spoke up when she noticed challenges.
"The Army cannot function if Soldiers can't take care of themselves," said Lee. "You need to see the medical professionals and get things fixed."