Recently while attending Operation Immersion, a program designed to give service providers to veterans a glimpse into military life and issues, I learned the phrase, "The Fatal Funnel" and what it means. A "Fatal Funnel" occurs when soldiers are forced through a singular, narrow space (like a door or a hallway) while either being fired upon or anticipating being fired upon. It is an uncertain, life-or-death situation.
For many returning American Heroes the battles are not over...just different. Now they must face often debilitating medical conditions, syndromes, and disorders like Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), and many others. One of the least talked about potential home-front battles is Post Traumatic Epilepsy (PTE).
Every person who sustains a TBI is a candidate for PTE, regardless of whether they were ever in the military or not. Those with TBI's suffered in the military, however, are at an even greater risk of developing PTE than those in the general public. Post Traumatic Epilepsy is when a person who has sustained a TBI has two or more unprovoked seizures. A seizure is "a brief, strong rush of electrical activity affects part or all of the brain. Seizures can last from a few seconds to a few minutes." As the severity of the TBI increases, so does the risk of PTE. In fact, some of our veterans are facing a 53% increased risk of developing PTE. In other words for some veterans with TBI, they have a better chance of developing PTE then they do flipping a coin, calling it heads, and getting it right.
Adding to the problem of PTE is the possible late-onset component involved. Some veterans will experience no problems at all, and other veterans may go 30 or 40 years after the injury before having their first seizure. There is simply no predicting when—or
if—the soldier will seize. For example, earlier this year a veteran was riding his motorcycle down the Interstate and had his first seizure…four years after his return from Afghanistan. Not only is he having to deal with his injuries from the accident (he may have to have his leg amputated), but he also now has to try and get his seizures under control.
"Deaths from seizures are uncommon, but do occur. People with seizure disorders (epilepsy) have an increased risk of death due to accidents from seizures such as drowning and other causes such as status epilepticus. In addition, there is a condition called Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP). While these causes are all relatively uncommon, it is important to be aware of each and to take any necessary precautions."
PTE is the Fatal Funnel. Every day our returning heroes will be breaching the door and moving down the hallway of life. Every day they will have to either face the possibility of seizures or endure the seizures. Every day for the rest of their lives they will have to navigate their personal Fatal Funnel.