Americans love their freedom and independence, and since 1870 when Congress declared the 4th of July as a National Holiday, Americans have loved their Independence Day celebrations with family and friends. The 4th of July has become a highly anticipated weekend of fun, food, and relaxation. At least for most Americans…
From WWII through the present, the United States still has 83,348 American soldiers listed as Missing In Action. The sad reality is we don’t know if these soldiers are dead or are being held as Prisoners of War. In July 2011, the Wall Street Journal published an article by David Feith titled, America’s Forgotten Prisoners of War. Feith’s article reports on the fate of two American Soldiers: Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and Ssgt. Ahmed Altaie. According to the WSJ article, Sgt. Bergdahl was last seen in an April 2011 video supplicating: "Every day I want to go home. The pain in my heart to see my family again doesn't get any smaller. Release me, please. I am begging you. Bring me home." Operation Outreach struggles to understand the pain, loss, and emptiness the families of those missing in action must feel. For most of the party participants this 4th of July, those Americans missing in action will be far from their minds.
There is, however, a growing number of potential Prisoners of War. These POW’s are not locked behind enemy bars, savagely interrogated, or inhumanely forced into labor. In fact, these POW’s are back in the United States. Some are living with their families and others are living on the streets. These POW’s are our soldiers returning home who have suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and who have yet to experience the full, latent consequences of their TBI. Of course the reported number of soldiers who have suffered a TBI varies widely. The pie chart (in picture) represents the number of TBI's that the Department of Defense reports, and yet CBS says the Pentagon is reporting 36% of OEF/OIF/OND veterans have sustained a TBI (36% of 2 million deployed is 720,000).
Post Traumatic Epilepsy (PTE) is not uncommon following a TBI. PTE is a form of Epilepsy that is acquired following a head injury. In 2009, Dr. Daniel H. Lowenstien, a Harvard Graduate and the Director of the Epilepsy Center at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, published an article titled, Epilepsy after head injury: An overview. Dr. Lowenstien notes several important facts of which veterans who have suffered a TBI need to be aware. First, “the association of epilepsy and head injury has been recognized since antiquity.” Second, “the likelihood of developing epilepsy after severe TBI is as high as 40–50% in some settings.” Third, “there is typically a significant delay between the initial head injury and the development of epilepsy.” Finally, with consideration of those soldiers who have incurred a severe TBI “the development of epilepsy by 10 years or more after the injury (with combined observations on 3,066 soldiers), the incidence is almost exactly 50% in all the studies.” Other studies indicate the late-onset of Post Traumatic Epilepsy (PTE) can occur as many as 20 years or 35 years after the TBI occurs. The problem is there is no way of knowing which veterans with a TBI will or will not develop PTE, or when their first seizure will occur. Thus the veteran becomes a potential POW to the waiting game...the ambiguity of not knowing if or when he or she may develop PTE. For the veteran with a TBI who develops PTE, the scenario might go something like this: he or she suffered a TBI at 20 years old. The veteran has had no complications from the TBI for 35 years. Now 55 years old, the veteran packs the grand kids into the car for a day at the park. While driving down the road the veteran experiences his or her first seizure. Depending on the type of seizure, the results could be horrific not only for the veteran but for those grandchildren as well. Two months ago, Operation Outreach had an extended family have his first seizure while riding his motorcycle down the highway...4 years after his mild TBI and without any complications between TBI and seizure.
PTE is not the only life-altering ailment that can follow or be comorbid with TBI. There are some estimates that about 50% of those suffering a TBI also develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and on June 27, 2013, the Los Angeles Times published an article linking TBI to increased risk for ischemic stroke.
Unlike those Americans who were physically bound and tortured by the enemy, the veterans who have suffered a TBI are held bondage by what could potentially happen to them. They are our Potential POW’s.
Operation Outreach is proud of all our American soldiers and veterans. We long for the families of all 83,348 of our POW’s/MIA’s to find some closure and comfort. We desire peace throughout the world. We celebrate our independence. And, we understand the tidal wave of medical and mental health issues our veterans are currently facing and will face in the future. We call on all who are veterans or who have loved a veteran to help us help them. Get involved. Help us find a cure for Epilepsy so that no warrior of our nation will lose another moment to seizures.
This Independence Day get out there and have some fun! But, take the time to remember the past and on-going sacrifices that were made so we can celebrate our independence.
Oh, by the way...please be mindful of the veterans in your life. Many of our veterans hate fireworks because the sounds of the Bottle Rockets and Firecrackers remind them of a place they time they would just as soon forget.
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