July 11, 2006 Feature

One Soldier's Story

Steve Cobb and his wife Natalie
Steve Cobb, shown with his wife Natalie, benefited from a community re-entry program.

Steve Cobb lives in West Virginia with his wife Natalie and two kids. When he joined the National Guard in 1985, he never dreamed he would end up serving his country in Iraq. Cobb is like many National Guard members who serve one weekend a month working toward the goal of retirement, holding down jobs in their community, and working hard to support their families. Steve was activated in August of 2003 and went through special training for the conflict in Iraq, where he was deployed in February 2004.

After two months in Iraq, Cobb was on a night mission that involved chasing down a truck suspected of carrying weapons. Driving an armored personnel carrier and wearing night vision goggles, he was temporarily blinded by the headlights of approaching traffic. Careening down a washed-out place in the road, Cobb and the vehicle suddenly dropped nine feet into a ditch. He struck his head on the hard metal surfaces in the vehicle and suffered a head injury that left him disoriented.

After being initially treated at the site of his injury, Cobb returned to duty with advice to take some Motrin for the headaches which were more frequent than usual. "They said nothing was wrong with me and sent me back," he recalls.

He suffered a closed head injury as a result of the accident. Effects of such an injury are sometimes not readily apparent. Cobb talked about his frustration with the military system and the treatment he received for his brain injury when compared to other injured soldiers.

"If you don't have an outward amputation or something, they don't feel like you're injured," he said. "They can fix your arm or your leg, but you can't fix your brain."

Cobb served out his tour of duty and returned to West Virginia to attempt to return to his old life, but was hampered by cognitive and emotional deficits from his injury, including significant loss of short-term memory.

Community Re-entry

Cobb was sent to Lakeview Virginia NeuroCare (LVN) in Charlottesville, VA for intensive, community re-entry rehabilitation for brain injury. Each soldier who participates in the LVN program stays in an eight-bed residential living facility that is housed in a Victorian-style house. At the facility, speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are an integral part of an innovative community-based program that provides 24-hour supervision by trained staff.

Cobb participated in the Transitional Therapy Program (TTP) which is an intensive rehabilitation program, offering group therapies facilitated by SLPs, occupational and physical therapists, a clinical psychologist, and a vocational specialist. The program addresses cognitive-behavioral, neuromotor, and social skills in a real-world setting while participating in functional, community-based activities. TTP features six educational modules-brain injury education, wellness, empowerment, time management, attention/memory, and social skills.

Working toward returning to the workplace and fostering a sense of productivity, clients begin by seeking out a volunteer work experience. In conjunction with a therapist, the client's volunteer experience builds confidence and demonstrates competence.

The intensive treatment, Cobb says, "was the best thing that happened to me."

"The way the therapists worked with me, they taught me ways to remember stuff that really worked," Cobb says. "Even though at the time when someone gives me an appointment, I might remember it, I know a couple of minutes later it might be gone. So now I write everything down in my memory planner."

Before he served in Iraq, Cobb held a responsible job in an automobile manufacturing plant in West Virginia, but now is unable to perform to his previous work capacity because of his brain injury. While recognizing that he needed a new direction, he didn't know where to turn when he would finally return to his family. Cobb had been promised a job in the housekeeping department of a hospital near his home, and the clinical team at LVN helped him develop his vocational interest.

Through a local hospital, a volunteer placement was arranged so he could practice on-the-job skills in a supportive work environment with his therapists.

"The work gave me something to do that I felt I could do," Cobb says. "It showed me there are some things I can still do."

John DaVanzo, is a speech-language pathologist and clinical director at Lakeview Virginia NeuroCare. He is completing a doctoral degree in Communication Disorders at the University of Virginia. His research centers on quality of life after brain injury. Contact him by e-mail at jdavanzo@vanc.org.

cite as: DaVanzo, J. (2006, July 11). One Soldier's Story. The ASHA Leader.


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