Help for heroes

Army veteran and his family receive mortgage free home in Washougal

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Traumatic brain injury and veterans

The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have resulted in increased numbers of veterans who have traumatic brain injury. The main causes of TBI in veterans are blasts, motor vehicle accidents, and gunshot wounds. The Department of Defense and the Defense and Veteran’s Brain Injury Center estimate that 22 percent of these combat wounds are brain injuries.

Studies show that veterans seem to have symptoms for longer than civilians, with most still exhibiting symptoms 18 to 24 months after the TBI. Also, many veterans have more than one medical problem, including: PTSD, chronic pain or substance abuse. Approximately 60 to 80 percent of service members who are hurt in other ways by a blast may have a TBI. These other problems make it harder to get better from any single problem.

Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

From the time he was a child growing up in Michigan, Corey Collins wanted to serve in the military.

In 2008, the then-firefighter joined the Army reserves. But he wanted more. After much persistence, Corey entered active duty in 2009.

While deployed to Afganistan in 2011, the combat medic encountered numerous explosions and fire fights. He was subsequently awarded two Purple Hearts, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal and the Army Commendation Medal, among other decorations.

But these commendations came with a high price. Although he walked away from the conflicts physically uninjured, Corey was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. The staff sergeant was medically discharged from the Army in August.

Although PTSD is a term most are familiar with, TBI is often not well understood, even in medical circles.

“For a long time, I just didn’t say anything about my experiences,” Corey said. “It took a series of doctors to figure out that I had TBI. None of the treatments being used for my PTSD were working.”

TBI occurs after a blow or jolt to the head, or an object penetrating the brain. When the brain is injured, the person can experience a change in consciousness that can range from becoming disoriented and confused to slipping into a coma. The person might also have a loss of memory for the time immediately before or after the event that caused the injury.

“He is struggling with the invisible wounds of war,” said Thomas Kilgannon, president of the Freedom Alliance, a military support organization. “For these service members, it is a very long, difficult rehabilitation process. As a combat medic, he saw the pain and horrific injuries.”

Kilgannon was present Sept. 14 to welcome Corey, his wife Katie and their 5-year-old son, Liam, to their newly-renovated, mortgage-free home in Washougal’s Summer Slope West neighborhood, which came about through a partnership between U.S. Bank, Freedom Alliance’s Heroes to Homeowners Program and Five Brothers.

It is the sixth home across the United States to be donated to an injured veteran so far.

The Collins family received the red carpet treatment, complete with a fire and police escort through their new neighborhood. Mayor Sean Guard, The Patriot Guard Riders, Veterans of Foreign Wars, neighbors and other local dignitaries were also on hand to welcome them to Washougal.

Like many combat veterans with TBI and PTSD, Cory does not feel comfortable in crowded situations. But he stepped up to the microphone to say a few words, choking back tears.

“Thank you to everyone, for everything,” he said.

Katie added, “This really means a lot. It is almost overwhelming.”

Guard noted that the community helped bring everything together.

“There are a lot of gift cards waiting for you,” he said. “A bed and a frame have been assembled up in Liam’s room and Camas Bikes has donated a new bicycle for him. Georgia-Pacific has donated enough paper products for the next four or five years. When your neighborhood found out about this, they really came together and it has been a neat thing to be a part of this.”

Stacey Dodson, president of U.S. Bank in Portland and Southwest Washington, described the event as, “one of the most proud days of my career.”

“My uncle is a Vietnam vet and my brother-in-law did two tours in Iraq,” she said. “I know the sacrifices that our military families make. Today, we are here to give the Collins family a home of their own.”

The Collins family traveled across the country from Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County, Virginia, in a 17-foot trailer to reach their new home. Although they are still getting settled, Katie noted that Washougal is ideal for Corey, who has a passion for hunting and fishing. He also finds the tranquility and peace of being outdoors helpful in the rehabilitation process, sometimes to the point of being more effective than some of the treatments he has tried.

“This is some of the prettiest country in the United States and I truly believe that some of the outdoor things he enjoys have changed and ultimately saved his life,” Katie said. “He is wasting no time getting to know the area and enjoy the time outside.”

After Corey’s deployment in Afghanistan and subsequent long treatment process for TBI and PTSD, the family is looking forward to spending more quality time together, and building a new life in Washougal.

“Corey has been through a lot and the whole process has been very time consuming and confusing for our son,” Katie said. “We are so grateful for this opportunity and want to thank everyone who helped make it happen.”