The Fort Hood Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic opened its doors to the public Thursday in honor of Brain Injury Awareness Month.
For this second annual event, Capt. Sarah Gibbons, chief of the clinic, wanted to focus on the awareness of brain injuries that occur in everyday life.
“Everybody is aware of TBI when it comes to soldiers being deployed overseas ... but I think most people don’t know the majority of TBIs occur stateside,” she said. “It’s important to be aware that TBI and concussions occur in the stateside setting.”
Although thousands of service members’ brain injuries are combat-related, more than 80 percent occur in garrison and are the result of falls, vehicle and bicycle accidents, sports injuries and assaults, according to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. Armywide, 12,743 active-duty soldiers were treated for brain injuries in 2013. Of those, 78 percent were considered mild.
Locally, the Fort Hood clinic treated 1,000 patients last year in about 16,000 visits. The majority of those patients were active-duty soldiers, but Gibbons said they do treat retirees and dependents as well.
Some of the treatment options available include primary care, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, social work and case management.
Symptoms vary and can include sleep problems, memory loss and headaches.
Improvements can be seen in patients through reduction in frequency and severity of headaches, improvements to sleep and measurable improvements to testing.
“Especially for active duty ... (success) is they are able to function back with their unit and do everything everyone else in the unit is able to do,” Gibbons said. “They can do as they were able to do before.”
During the open house, Colleen Saffron spoke about the recovery of her husband, retired Staff Sgt. Terry Saffron, who was injured in Iraq a decade ago. His vehicle hit a roadside bomb.
She briefly mentioned the difficulties in treatment and caregiving and having her voice heard during his recovery, but focused mainly on the fact that the couple came out on the other side.
“I learned a lot,” Saffron said. “I went through a really, really bad time. I became the angry wife. ... You have every right to be angry, but exercising that right doesn’t change anything.”
In the end, Saffron said she learned to focus on her mission as her husband’s caregiver — to facilitate independence, not create dependence.
“It’s important for people to see the other side of the story. There’s life on the other side and it’s a good one — a very good one,” she said. “The success of the veteran is directly connected to how much their caregiver thrives.”
Gibbons said the clinic provides support groups and opportunities for caregivers of brain injury patients.