I am a Marine. I returned from my last tour of duty in Afghanistan in February 2011.
In the months after my return, I refused to admit that I was not quite the same person I was before leaving home just one year earlier.
Family and friends saw a significant change in my demeanor, but treaded lightly. Any discussion of the topic was usually met with my intolerance, and a barrage of four-letter words. Those incidents caused lasting, emotional wounds to the people I love, some of which I am still trying to mend.
I was injured, but I did not know it. Something inside me was changed.
I did not want to hear the word "disorder" -- there were future billets and deployments that I needed to be ready for. A medical diagnosis could be a blemish on my record; a vulnerability that could adversely affect my opportunity to lead and train other Marines. In my mind, it could not stand.
After drudging through a depressive year of fatigue, compounded by constant migraines, insomnia, and a failing memory, I gradually accepted the fact that both my physical and mental capabilities were deteriorating.
More importantly, my abilities as a father and husband were being adversely affected.
I will not forget the day I realized I needed help, as I watched my three-year-old son in the corner of our kitchen, his hands over his ears to silence the verbal assault I was raining down upon my wonderful wife, complaining about... her choice of a pizza topping. A pizza topping? Out of all the things I wish I could remember on a daily basis, that image of my son is an image that I cannot shake.
I was ashamed. I sought treatment, privately, but told no one for fear of the shame and stigma that might accompany it. I was diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury, or TBI, and referred to a
state-of-the-art facility in Bethesda, Maryland, called the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE). There, I was told, was the treatment I needed.
I was hesitant to tell anyone for fear that my aptitude to lead would be called into question. I worried of possible repercussions.
Hesitantly, I informed my Colonel about the diagnosis. He expressed nothing but concern for my well-being and my path to recovery.
I was dispatched to NICoE where I began my treatment with a small group of service members with their own diverse medical conditions. Despite a significant range in pay grades and experiences, we were equals, starting on our individual transformations together.
During my treatment I created lasting friendships with those junior Marines, Navy SEALs, National Guardsmen, Airmen and Special Forces -- each battling their own demons. We shared one objective: To restore our health, rebuild our character and sense of worth, and reconcile our veiled wounds that do not reveal themselves easily.
Driven by a wide range of treatments uniquely tailored to each individual, my recuperation began that very first week. And at the end of four weeks, I felt more like my old self than ever: Reinvigorated and recharged.
There are a great many Marines, like myself, that refuse to acknowledge their own deep-seated injuries. As we scale back our conflicts overseas, including those in Afghanistan, commands are beginning to experience the lasting effects of combat and the impact it has had on the service member, his family, and the unit.
The newest effort by the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund -- to build a series of NICoE Satellite Centers at military bases around the country -- will no doubt help thousands of service members with conditions just like mine. The centers will be local and accessible, keeping men and women receiving treatment close to their units and their families -- who can provide the first line of defense in recognizing a loved one's condition and encouraging them to seek treatment.
Already two of these centers are under construction at Fort Belvoir, Va. and Camp Lejeune, N.C., and the Fund is asking concerned Americans to join them in funding the remaining centers. Like the Center for the Intrepid and NICoE before them, private funding allows the centers to be built faster, more efficiently and open their doors sooner to serve more service members who need the help they will provide.
Even NICoE can never fully heal my wounds. What it did do was provide me with the tools to overcome the barriers that have impeded me as a Marine, a father and a husband.
Unlike before my treatment, it is a struggle that I am now prepared to take on.
For more on the NICoE Satellite Center project, visit Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.