Breaking the Silence: Transforming Traumatic Brain Injury Care for Veterans

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Photo © Pexels/Anna Shvets

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the signature wound of post-9/11 Veterans, yet very little is being done to treat it.

Many times, the injury is put under the post-traumatic stress (PTS) diagnosis, which is like lumping a throat infection with a cold. You can treat the cold, but it won’t clear up the throat infection without proper treatment. They might have similar symptoms, but the treatments should be different. Treating a brain injury, which is a physical injury, with therapies for post-traumatic stress, an emotional injury, may soften the symptoms, but it won’t treat the brain injury.

Defenders of Freedom understands this, and as they move towards their 20th year as a Veteran-centered non-profit organization, treating TBIs has become their priority.

Donna Cranston founded Defenders of Freedom in 2004 while her son was in Iraq, and she greeted Troops daily at the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. Each day, a plane-load of troops arrived at DFW Airport through the Army’s R&R program, and Donna went to greet them.

After talking to many of them, she found that some were not receiving care packages. She would write their names down, find out what they needed and wanted, and try to personalize the packages. In just a couple of months, she needed help taking care of all the names she collected, so she began asking the volunteers to greet the troops and ask if others wanted to help. To her surprise, she was overwhelmed with how many wanted to get involved; many just didn’t know how to. So, she started Defenders of Freedom as a way to connect the community to support the Troops. They sent thousands of packages to Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, and Africa.

In 2007, Donna received an email from an Advocate for Wounded Warriors (AW2) at Fort Campbell, KY, asking if she would help a wounded Troop. She was thrilled to be able to help. That email began her journey of providing financial assistance to wounded troops. Desperate Veterans reached out from 32 different states for assistance with critical living expenses. It was through hundreds of conversations with Veterans and Troops who reached out for help that Donna began to see a pattern of undiagnosed and untreated brain injuries.

traumatic brain injury
Ovard for Vestitublar training © Courtesy of Defenders of Freedom
Virtualis machine – virtual reality training © Courtesy of Defenders of Freedom
rTMS – upregulating the frontal lobe © Courtesy of Defenders of Freedom

Five years later, Donna was introduced to a functional neurology program through a friend who needed some Veterans to put through their program to treat TBI. Donna referred 35 Veterans to her and was surprised to see that all 35 had positive effects from the treatment. She began to visit the clinic to watch their treatments and understand how they worked. It was so effective for everyone she referred that she had to learn more. In 2019, Defenders of Freedom made treating TBIs their primary focus.

“Thank you for this! I’m so grateful to you and everyone else who is doing this. When I say life-changing, I truly mean it, Donna. I don’t know where I’d be right now if not for you and the team!” —Adam Smith, U.S. Army Green Beret

Defenders of Freedom explains that symptoms of depression, anger, anxiety, balance issues, dizziness, headaches, cognitive issues, insomnia, gut issues, and hormone imbalances are symptoms that the brain is presenting to say, “Things aren’t connecting well in here.” And, in fact, they are not. When pathways have been impeded or become sluggish from trauma force that many Veterans experience, repeatedly, they experience many of the aforementioned symptoms.

Through functional neurology, doctors are able to incorporate neurologic activation, opening those pathways again through evidence-based, powerful modalities. Some are as simple as eye exercises but can still be life-changing. When brain tissue is dead, it liquifies and is absorbed into the body—but if it is damaged or impeded, there is an excellent chance that the pathways can be restored or new ones created. Functional neurology restores function by re-engaging those pathways.

“In just two short weeks, we get to see lives changed—all the Veterans we put through this treatment experience positive effects and begin the path to recovery,” the organization shared. “It is exciting that once those pathways open up, they will continue to heal and strengthen through homework protocols given to the Veterans by the doctors.”

Virtualis machine – virtual reality training © Courtesy of Defenders of Freedom
Ovard for Vestitublar training © Courtesy of Defenders of Freedom

Defenders of Freedom believes that TBIs are the leading cause of suicides among combat Veterans. Defenders of Freedom believes that this treatment helps to reduce suicides. Defenders of Freedom has worked with many Veterans who have been through a gamut of treatments and therapies and still do not feel like they are okay. After this treatment, they have hope again.

“I am noticing the biggest difference in him,” said the spouse of a USMC Veteran. “It truly is amazing, and it has been bringing tears to my eyes. He sounds so much better!

He keeps talking about changing certain things in his diet, he has started running again, and is also talking about joining a gym as well as taking up yoga, which is all very huge progress! This is that breakthrough that we have been waiting so long for and I can’t thank you guys enough! This is truly life changing and lifesaving. One day I will get out there and give you all the biggest hugs because you are giving me my husband back!”

It is estimated that 470,000 9/11 Veterans sustained a TBI while on active duty. Without partnerships and people who want to help, we couldn’t help any of them. You can make a difference. Help us help them!

Visit defendersoffreedom.us to learn more and get involved.

Outcomes after 10 days of treatment:

98% Report improvement in sleep

41% Reduction in depression scores

87% Decrease in anxiety

60% Improvement in cognitive activity

48% Increase in memory

78% Improvement in processing speed

67% Improvement in attention

65% Reduction in depression scores through PHQ9 scores

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Defenders of Freedom provides donors with the organization they need to support post-9/11 Veterans in their transition to civilian life through emergency financial assistance, morale-building programs, and traumatic brain injury treatment.

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