In August 2003, Army Specialist Vincent Short’s life changed forever. He can’t remember much from that day in Iraq, and maybe that’s a good thing. His convoy was hit by a blast. Short (pictured above) woke up weeks later at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and learned he had suffered a multitude of injuries, including a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and had lost a friend who was riding with him.
Today, he is a rehabilitation “graduate” and volunteer at the Washington, DC VA Medical Center (DCVAMC).
The medical center seeks to raise awareness of TBI by recognizing March as Brain Injury Awareness Month. VA is leading the way in research and treatment of TBI.
Dr. Joel. Scholten says VA is conducting studies to identify the best ways to treat Veterans with TBI, including a study on improving community reintegration using a unique problem-solving therapy. Scholten is Associate Chief of Staff for Rehabilitation Services at VA’s DCVAMC.
“There is also emerging evidence that physical exercise can promote brain recovery and we’re studying the effects of combining exercise with recreational activities for Veterans with chronic TBI,” said Dr. Scholten.
Success – Thanks to Hard Work and Determination
Short is one of the best success stories when it comes to exercise, recreation therapy, and community reintegration while recovering from a TBI. And a lot of the credit belongs to Short and his hard work and determination.
From the time he arrived in 2006 until his “graduation” in 2013, he was at the medical center five days a week for care and rehabilitation.
“Every day they had me doing something, whether it was physical therapy, speech therapy, counseling or recreation therapy,” Short said.
He thrived in the Recreation Therapy program at the medical center. Through a variety of activities like swimming, hiking, kayaking, field trips and horseback riding, Short learned to trust himself and others.
“I was able to build up my confidence, and understand myself better in relation to others,” he said, giving credit to recreation therapist Lucile Lisle for helping him overcome fear. “She’s my hero. I’ve learned that failure is a
beautiful thing. It makes you smarter, stronger and helps you improve.”
Veteran Vincent Short with Washington DC VA Medical Center’s Associate Chief of Staff for Rehabilitation Services Dr. Joel. Scholten and Recreation Therapist Lucille Lisle
There are two types of failure, he said: actual failure and not trying to do something because of the fear of failure.
“VA’s program has taught me how to pay attention and how to improve myself,” said Short, who is now enrolled in college, studying criminal justice and has 60 semester hours under his belt. “Before Iraq, I tried to go to school, but I just couldn’t stick with it. I’m different now.”
He is also volunteering at the medical center several days a week and was even named “Volunteer of the Quarter” recently. Short said he has one main reason for pushing himself past his comfort zone – his 14-year-old son.
“He sees me as his hero and I knew I had to do more.” With his disability check, Short said he could easily sit in a corner and do nothing. “But that’s not me, I want my son to see me contributing to society, he can never use me as an excuse for copping out.”
Short knows he may never be exactly like he was before the attack, but spends his time on activities that allow him to focus on the present and to improve his skills for a better future for himself and his family.
For Short, the future looks very bright due to his determination and willingness to work alongside VA health care professionals as part of its therapy program.
Brain Injury Awareness Month
The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq (OEF/OIF/OND) have resulted in an alarming number of Veterans with brain injuries.
The Defense and Veteran’s Brain Injury Center estimates that 22 percent of all OEF/OIF/OND deployed forces may have experienced a TBI or concussion. In comparison, this number was 12 percent during Vietnam.
For Veterans, recovering from TBI can be a long and arduous process especially when complicated by having multiple injuries or co-morbid conditions. In fiscal year 2016, the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Service at DCVAMC treated 1,386 unique Veterans.
About the author: Sarah Hash Cox is a Public Affairs Specialist at the Washington DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center