Cries for help

Suicide surpassed war as the military’s leading cause of death

War was the leading cause of death in the military nearly every year between 2004 and 2011 until suicides became the top means of dying for troops in 2012 and 2013, according to a bar chart published this week in a monthly Pentagon medical statistical analysis journal.

For those last two years, suicide outranked war, cancer, heart disease, homicide, transportation accidents and other causes as the leading killer, accounting for about three in 10 military deaths each of those two years.

Transportation accidents, by a small margin, was the leading cause of military deaths in 2008, slightly more than combat.

The fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan accounted for anywhere from one out of three deaths in the military — in 2005 and 2010 — to more than 46 percent of deaths in 2007, during the height of the Iraq surge, according to the chart.

More than 6,800 troops have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11 and more than 3,000 additional service members have taken their lives in that same time, according to Pentagon data.

And then there’s this………….Gunman kills doctor then turns gun on himself

Does it seem if the world is going crazy? I wonder if any of you hear what I do when I read these articles. There is no crazy about it. Our current military action is causing a multitude of problems here at home for our Veterans. In these articles I hear desperate cries for help. They are slipping through the cracks and not receiving beneficial treatment through the VA for several reasons. Things need to change. I want them to know that I hear them. I want you to hear them. I believe with all my heart that the gunman in this story was desperate for help and answers. This “craziness” will not stop until we find them all and get them treated for their war injuries, the ones you can’t see, the PTSD and TBI. If you know a veteran or civilian with a story please listen. Ask them to write it down and send it to me. I’ll make sure they are heard.

Since I’ve began advocating for HBOT for Traumatic Brain Injury I have met so many heroes, so many desperate for relief. Their stories keep me up at night. I toss and turn wondering how to find them all and make the VA  help them. But I do hear good stories and happy endings like Captain Smothermon. His story is below and is one that gives you hope. I meet people like this almost everyday. I hear their stories and I want to share them. Listen and you might hear what we need to do to help so that others can get relief. Help me find their stories so they can be heard.

My name is Captain Matthew Smothermon, a broken soldier now repaired. This is my story:

                Prior to my deployment to Afghanistan, I was a high-functioning individual. I had earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Tulsa, completed two years of law school, and was moving along smoothly in my military career as an officer. However, in the summer of 2011, rather than graduating from law school and beginning my life as a new attorney, I was instead flying into Afghanistan as part of the largest deployment of the 45th Infantry Brigade since the Korean War. As a platoon leader in the Brigade’s sole Route Clearance asset, I was tasked with leading daily combat patrols throughout the Laghman Province. Our mission was simple: seek out and eliminate the threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Our mission of Route Clearance is widely considered one of the most dangerous missions in Afghanistan. It consists of brave (and somewhat crazed) men traveling through the most dangerous areas ahead of everyone else in order to find and destroy IEDs, thus clearing the way for successful operations. While we found dozens of IEDs, some of them found us first. In my case, my vehicle was struck by three very large IEDs all in the span of about a month. Miraculously, I walked away from each, though I was hospitalized and ultimately taken off the front lines as a result of my injuries. While I suffered multiple back injuries including ruptured and herniated discs, spinal nerve impingement, and degenerative disc disease, perhaps the most debilitating side-effect of the blasts was my traumatic brain injury (TBI).

In the immediate aftermath, I could barely concentrate enough to read a piece of paper, could hardly sleep through the night.  It was terrible. The best way I can describe the experience is that one day, I woke up but my brain didn’t.  From then on nothing felt quite right. And while there was a natural recovery period for my TBI as my brain adapted to its newfound roadblocks and failures, the recovery process eventually plateaued. I would have spurts of normality punctuated by severe lapses in cognition. This became my new normal: everything I would do required at least twice as much mental exertion in order to deliver results which were, at best, less than what I had once been capable of; my ability to multi-task was almost completely gone; my train of thought would be consistently lost mid-sentence; I was perpetually exhausted, yet unable to sleep; I was mentally broken and emotionally numb.

It was enough to get by for the remainder of the deployment, but upon returning home, the permanence of my brain injury began to take root. Spinal injuries, with their constant pain, were a terrible nuisance, but they could never affect my identity. The brain injury, however, affected everything I did to the point that it changed who I was. My hopes and dreams were dashed as I realized that I could never become an attorney; I could barely read for more than ten minutes at a time, much less manage a law school curriculum and the rigors of the legal field. I eventually gave up on returning to law school after finding myself incapable of composing the single-page letter required for my readmission after several months of trying. My emotional numbness strained my personal relationships and my marriage. My inability to focus in the midst of distractions had rendered social outings mostly untenable. Moreover, the recognition of my newfound deficiency had me questioning whether I was fit to serve in the military, much less lead soldiers as an officer. With no further recovery taking place, the full reality of my TBI had come to light, and I began a slow spiral into depression. I was a shadow of my former self.

In October of 2012, I learned of a medical research study being conducted by Dr. Paul Rock of Oklahoma State University. The study, which employed the Harch Protocol of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT), sought to explore the possibility of whether HBOT could have a healing effect on brain injuries such as mine. With a healthy dose of skepticism but nothing to lose, I volunteered to participate as a test subject. The resulting transformation I experienced was shocking, powerful, and complete. Within two weeks of beginning daily one-hour sessions, it felt as though someone had reached into my head and begun flipping the circuit breakers. Suddenly, I found myself sleeping through the night. Within twenty sessions, the static gears of my mental machinery began spinning back to life, and I suddenly found myself multi-tasking, managing complex thought processes, and even being able to effectively relate on an emotional level to my family, my friends, and my wife. By the time I had undergone 40 sessions, what had once been a dense mental fog had given way to clarity for the first time in well over a year; not only could I think clearly again, but I returned to law school. By the time I had completed the full 80 sessions of HBOT treatment, not only had I returned to full capacity as a soldier and leader, but I had taken over as the company commander of my deploying unit. Moreover, I was able to effectively serve as the officer in charge of our battalion’s ground operations during the tornado disaster relief mission in Moore, Oklahoma. Since then, there has been no looking back.

Today, I can safely say that I have recovered from the traumatic brain injury which fundamentally changed my life in the summer of 2011. Of course, I have seen the data from my cognitive test results, and I know this to be true. But nothing comes close to seeing your wife, a full year after you have returned from war, look at you with tears in her eyes and tell you, “It’s good to have you back.” The entirety of this transformative experience is one that mere words can hardly convey. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy has restored me as a person, as a husband, as a soldier, and as a leader. I simply would not be where I am now but by the grace of God’s providence and the effectiveness of this medical treatment.


~ by gonefishindd5 on January 7, 2015.

One Response to “Cries for help”

  1. This is a fantastic article! We all need to remember that just because soldiers have returned from war that the effects are not gone. HBOT is a miracle treatment, and I am so happy that more and more people are finding it. Bless Captain Smotherman and his family for his sacrifice and continued healing, health and wellness! Thank you for sharing this Diane! I love you!


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