Local News

'I had a flashback:' PTSD common among troops

Posted February 26, 2014 5:30 p.m. EST
Updated February 26, 2014 6:22 p.m. EST

— Ask anyone one who has been in combat, and they'll say there is nothing pretty, organized or fair about war. Some troops bring visible battle scars home. Others have silent battlefield wounds that can haunt them for the rest of their lives.

After more than a decade of war, the military is scrambling to provide care for thousands of men and women returning with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.

Senior Airman Aubrey Hand was hit by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. While undergoing therapy at Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg, he recalled a frightening experience at home after hearing fireworks on New Year's Eve.

“(I) had a flashback, came to about an hour and a half away from my house in full battle-rattle,” Hand said. “I don’t remember leaving. I don’t remember anything, didn’t know where I was. I was off the highway in the woods.”

Staff sergeant James Cornprobst, a Special Forces soldier, was shot in his helmet in Afghanistan and says the impact of the bullet was unreal.

“The round smacked my helmet and knocked me unconscious immediately. So, the guy next to me, he was able to shake me awake. He asked if I was OK, tried to get me to respond, (but) everything was ringing at the time,” Cornprobst said.

Stories like these are common among what's being described as a tsunami of troops returning with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.

Arnold Fisher is the honorary chairman of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. The organization used private money to build the National Intrepid Center at Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland. It's also building four satellite centers to deal with brain injuries across the country, including one to be built at Fort Bragg. It should be open by the end of 2015.

“It’s our duty. It’s our honor to do this,” Fisher said. “People telling me the government should be doing this, maybe that’s true, but if they don’t do it, then we do it.”

Dr. James Kelly is in charge of the organization’s Maryland center.

“All the time, we’re finding new things that are helping us understand the problem better and target the specific treatments,” he said. “One of the most important ones that I think every soldier will understand is sleep is critical to healing.”

The Intrepid Center uses a Diffusion Tensor Imaging MRI to diagnosis traumatic brain injuries and is similar to technology used to evaluate NFL players with concussions. It can see brain damage in soldiers with PTSD that is not detected during normal MRI scans.

Captain Henry McMillan is responsible for treating troops with traumatic brain injuries at Womack Army Medical Center and says 90 to 95 percent of the patients they treat are placed back on active duty.

“We’re bringing on some more complimentary services, such as acupuncture, movement therapists and recreational therapists,” McMillan said. “Those disciplines will help us to actually complete our holistic approach we have towards patient care.”