Most mornings, Sgt. Craig can be found in Casa Colina's gymnasium, walking the treadmill.  Shot in 2010 in Afghanistan and having undergone seven surgeries, he still has fragments of the bullet in his head. "I'm a medical miracle," he says with mordant humor. (Photo by Saul Gonzalez)

Most mornings, Sgt. Craig can be found in Casa Colina’s gymnasium, walking the treadmill. Shot in 2010 in Afghanistan and having undergone seven surgeries, he still has fragments of the bullet in his head. “I’m a medical miracle,” he says with mordant humor. (Photo by Saul Gonzalez)

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) has been called the signature wound of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In past conflicts, combat doctors couldn’t save a soldier or Marine who had been struck in the head by a bullet or had a roadside bomb go off next to him. Now, many of those troops can be saved thanks to battlefield medicine and surgery. But what those wounded often can’t escape is the long-term wound of traumatic brain injury.

Thousands of America’s servicemen and women are returning from the battlefield with severe TBI, which can wreak havoc with a person’s thinking abilities, memory and motivation, making them dependent on others for care for the rest of their lives. TBI can also be a thief, robbing its victims of their personalities and sense of self in a way no other injury can. That can turn a wounded warrior into a stranger to

Sgt. Ryan Craig is receiving long-term residential treatment and care at Casa Colina Centers for Rehabilitation in Pomona. Swamped with TBI cases from Iraq and Afghanistan, the military and V.A. have reached out such civilian institutions as Casa Colina to provide long-term rehab and treatment to the war wounded. Sgt. Craig doesn't know how long he'll be at the facility, but he hopes one day he can start a family. (Photo by Saul Gonzalez)

Sgt. Craig doesn’t know how long he’ll be at the facility, but he hopes one day he can start a family. (Photo by Saul Gonzalez)

their spouses, parents and friends.

Army Sgt. Ryan Craig is one of these soldiers. He was hit by an insurgent’s bullet in Afghanistan in 2010 and will struggle with the long-term affects of TBI for the rest of his life. That means never being able to live completely on his own again and, likely, never quite being the same person he was before he was struck by that bullet back in Afghanistan. This is how Sgt. Craig’s mom, Jennifer Miller, puts it: “It’s like a lot of his spirit is just not there. I think it’s there, he just doesn’t know how to get it out.

Sgt. Ryan Craig is receiving long-term residential treatment and care at Casa Colina Centers for Rehabilitation in Pomona. Swamped with TBI cases from Iraq and Afghanistan, the military and V.A. have reached out such civilian institutions as Casa Colina to provide long-term rehab and treatment to the war wounded.

Beyond the grief and pain it causes its victims and their families, TBI will also create an enormous long-term cost to the United States as the Department of Defense and Veterans Administration care for these war wounded and research the lasting consequences of traumatic brain injury. Billions have already spent on military TBI cases, but that’s nothing compared to the decades-long cost of caring for these servicemen and women. Long after memories of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have faded for many Americans, those with TBI will still carry the terrible burden of their invisible wounds. Listen to Sgt. Craig’s story below:

You can find more information about the military’s traumatic brain injury initiatives here.

 

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