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Helping Marines Get Unstuck

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Helping Marines Get Unstuck

Using a common sense approach, Major Charles Hall helps injured Marines find their way forward.

Marine Major Charles Hall often waits at a coffee shop or a local diner, wondering about the person who is coming and how he will be able to help.

“My job is basically to help these young Marines get unstuck,” says Hall, a reservist on active duty who deployed to Iraq in 2004-2005. Hall is a District Injured Support Coordinator (DISC) for the Marine Corps’ Wounded Warrior Regiment — for South Carolina and Georgia. “There are 30 of me around the country and we each cover a few states,” he says. What he and the other 29 DISCs do is to serve as non-medical case workers for — in most instances — medically retired Marines trying to reintegrate into civilian life. A quarter of their clients are Marines who are not medically discharged but who, for example, experienced one or more blast injuries and thought they were fine at the time only to realize later that they were dealing with debilitating symptoms.

Hall will meet with a wounded Marine about a month after he or she has returned from Camp Lejeune or Camp Pendleton where the Marine will most likely have been in rehab for about six months. “We take a common sense approach to helping these men and women get the support and resources they need,” he says. “We work with local VAs to set them up with the appropriate rehab services — be it occupational therapy for a brain injury, psychological support for combat stress, physical therapy for a new prosthetic, or support for a substance abuse issue.”

Picture the young Marines Hall meets. Most of theses guys are in their early or mid 20s. They were kids when they left, and now they are injured and back home transitioning to veteran status, with wounds like TBI, PTSD, a lost limb, injuries that can’t be “fixed.”

Hall starts to get to know a new “client” by studying his record to make sure the Marine was discharged properly. Maybe he can help the Marine get a well-deserved medal retroactively, or better understand that his brain was legitimately damaged by a blast injury and that he is not “crazy.” He’ll also do a comprehensive needs assessment to make sure he understands the scope of what this individual will need, physically and emotionally, in the short- and long-term. But most importantly, before he can help the Marine put any of these resources in place, he has to get to know the person and his family.

Sharing experiences, solving problems

Hall usually meets the Marine at a coffee house or restaurant — somewhere neutral, safe. The next meeting may be at the Marine’s home where Hall can meet the wife and kids, the mother, the father, the roommate — to understand how this Marine lives now and where and how he wants to move forward as he recovers.

“The vast majority of the men and women we work with want our help,” says Hall. “They tend to open up to us. We are active duty Marines; there is commonality. We get it. They want to tell their stories, to try to better understand the hard things they are dealing with.” And talking to another Marine is a world apart from talking to someone whom they know has no inkling about what they experienced in combat and now back home in the wake of those adrenaline-filled months and years.

“The guys we worry the most about are the ones who are harder to track. The ones who don’t realize they have a brain injury that is throwing obstacles in their path, the ones who have TBI and PTSD who think they can go it alone,” says Hall. “Sometimes it takes months or even years for someone to realize he cannot move forward without help. Fortunately, we get a lot of our guys by word of mouth, one Marine to another.”

Hall may meet with someone who doesn’t understand why he can’t do what he used to do. He is disorganized, can’t find anything, can’t remember where he’s supposed to go. He has nightmares and can’t sleep more than two hours at a time. As the weeks pile up without restorative sleep, he gets more anxious, more depressed. He keeps the curtains closed. He hates going out because it’s bright and noisy, the world seems to thrum around him and sitting for a short meal in a restaurant is exhausting. He tells his friends to go without him.

“I see from your record that you were knocked out of your Humvee in 2006,” Hall may say to this client. “Did you ever get checked for a traumatic brain injury?”

“No, what’s that?” the Marine may answer.

Hall will explain, and then after more talk and encouragement, he’ll arrange for the Marine to contact his local VA for a medical follow up. Perhaps his brain injury went undiagnosed, resulting in changes in cognition and behavior that the Marine does not understand. “With their consent,” says Hall, “we can help these Marines connect with the health providers they need.”

Other times, Hall may meet a Marine who has lost his way, his motivation gone. He’s simply stuck. He has a brain injury and severe PTSD, and his new prosthetic arm hurts. He can’t do what he used to do. Now he can’t deal with school or work; he’s living off disability.

“What are you going to be doing in 10 years?” Hall will ask. “You’ll be in your mid-30s by then. Do you still want to be sitting on your sofa playing Call of Duty?”

Hall may arrange for this “stuck” Marine to attend a one-week retreat through the Midwest Marines Foundation’s FOCUS program, where he can talk, listen, and share stories with other Marines like him. Finally, he can let his guard down and breathe. “At the end of the week, the Marine is usually unstuck,” says Hall. “He may be working on a resume or looking at a school to apply to. His week away made him realize that he’s not the only one and that his life is not over. It’s just different.”

Finding help: urban and rural

For Marines who live near cities or in more urban areas, finding services is easier. Their local VA may be in town and getting the regular outpatient care they need is a non-issue. But for thousands of other Marines who live in rural areas across the country, finding the help they need — on a regular, systematic basis — can be challenging.

 

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