More injured troops are surviving the war in Iraq than any other. But because of the terrible force of IED explosions, more are surviving with brain injury than in any other war.
Jason Poole was on his third tour in Iraq when, as he puts it, he got “blasted.”
“I was unconscious for two months,” Poole says. “And then I woke up in Bethesda, in Washington, D.C.”
That was at the Naval Medical Center. For two years now Jason has been treated at the Palo Alto VA Hospital — one of four specialized centers for rehabilitation of the huge numbers of brain injured troops. The program uses intense, individualized physical and mental rehabilitation.
Dr. Harriet Zeiner is a clinical neuropsychologist in the hospital’s polytrauma unit.
“Every hour of the day something is done,” Zeiner says, “And we're very careful to keep within the envelope of what someone is capable of doing and pushing it just a little.”
Angel Gomez is learning to walk again.
Frank Sandoval is struggling to eat on his own.
Most of the patients treated in the brain rehabilitation program go back in the community, but about 10 percent wind up in nursing homes or other long-term assisted living facilities on a permanent basis.
Jason Poole already is living in his own apartment — even taking driving lessons in a simulator and starting remedial reading classes at a community college — as he continues the rehab.
“Motivation isn't usually an issue,” Zeiner says, “Awareness that you're not gonna be that same person is the problem.”
Poole says he accepts that he will always have difficulty with speaking and memory.
“From the day I was born I've always been happy,” Poole says. “I know I got blasted and basically I came alive, you know, but basically it's just that I'm still happy.”
Thousands of other vets are facing the same challenge of accepting their new selves.