The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) hosted its annual Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Expo and Resource Fair at Marston Pavilion on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, March 7.

The event, held in conjunction with Brain Injury Awareness Month, compiled community organizations that could provide information and resources for active duty service members and veterans suffering the effects of TBIs.

Jamie L. Pope-Holcomb, regional education coordinator for DVBIC, said the goal was to give those with TBIs local resources to help in their recoveries.

More than 50 organizations participated, including veterans groups, state organizations and health service providers. Some of those organizations focused on outreach to families of those affected by a TBI.

“We promote family members coming in with service members,” said Navy Cmdr. Andrew Martin, department head for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. “It makes everyone better able to support service members by promoting understanding. It also gives us a chance to hear things from families that the active-duty personnel might not be aware of. We’ve found that, a lot of the time, family will be willing to say things that our military personnel aren’t as forthcoming about.”

The recovery center focuses on using non-narcotic treatment for active-duty personnel. By implementing practices such as mindfulness or yoga, service members are better able to maintain their fitness requirements without risking the side effects of medication, Martin said.

“We have a 94 percent return to service rate,” Martin said. “The hard chargers really love that. Our special operations Marines can be out of the fight for a shorter period of time and get back in it faster.”

That commitment to assisting mental health along with physical health was a central theme for the event. Brittany Hunt, regional social worker for Hope for the Warriors, discussed the importance of looking at those being helped as a whole.

“One of our main programs is the Clinical Health and Wellness Program,” Hunt said. “We look at a person’s overall wellness so we can best help them. We also offer sports and recreation programs like our Run for the Warriors to help our combat wounded.”

Other organizations showcased technology aimed at reducing pain or diagnosing symptoms associated with a TBI. Of particular interest to attendees was inLight Medical, which uses LED light treatments to reduce pain and improve quality of life.

“The light has a biological effect on people. The process is called photobiomodulation,” said Lisa Sparr, a representative for inLight. “It’s FDA proven to increase oxygen flow and circulation while reducing pain. It’s simple and an alternative to drugs or alcohol.”

The company offered free sessions with the technology to those in attendance.

For providers seeking to help with determining factors related to a TBI, BrainScope showcased its own technology.

“This device assesses electrical activity in the brain and tells us the likelihood of structural injury and the percentage of impairment,” said Dr. Clayton Collier, director of customer care for BrainScope. “It’s being used overseas and domestically to help get a quick diagnosis for TBI.”

The organizations also stressed teamwork among them. Chief Petty Officer Elmer Noble Jr., non-medical care manager for Navy Wounded Warrior – Safe Harbor, said the synergy between Safe Harbor and Wounded Warrior Battalion East was clear.

“We help sailors with things like finances, finding baby sitters or any other non-medical resources they might need,” Noble said. “Working with Wounded Warrior Battalion East and having access to their facilities gives us a huge advantage when it comes to looking after our people. We work as one big team.”

Ronnie Johnson, administrative personnel with Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune through the Red Cross, was excited about the possibilities for teamwork as well.

“This event is just awesome. I think it helps us pass on good information for guys on active duty and for veterans,” Johnson said. “We’re finding all kinds of organizations to partner with, and that’s helping us to help people. It’s really an incredible event.”

The road to recovery from a TBI can be long and strenuous. However, in the middle of the Marston Pavilion ballroom sat a testament to that recovery. The Brain Injury Association of North Carolina displayed masks decorated by survivors of TBI. Under each mask was a description of the creator’s circumstance as well as the reasoning behind their design choice.

“My mask represents how everyone close sees me versus how I see myself and what I am going through,” reads one mask by Caitlyn L. of Rougemont. “The outside looks ‘normal’ to most people I come in contact with. They can’t see the struggle that lies beneath the service. … It is so easy to fake being okay with a simple smile. Most of the time, however, I deal with a lot of depression and anxiety due to my multiple concussions. On the inside it feels dark and lonely sometimes. I spend whole days fighting off my dizziness and migraines while trying to keep a brave face. My mask represents the literal mask that I wear every day. Traumatic brain injuries are the hidden injury because it is hard to see from the outside. The darkness that I feel inside is represented by the dark side of the mask. … I look perfectly normal, but on the inside I am constantly struggling.”

Flanked as it was by 23 others, the mask did not stand alone. Thanks to the assembled community resources teaming up at Marston Pavilion on Thursday, our service members need not either.  

For more information, go online to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center website at https://dvbic.dcoe.mil/ or the Intrepid Spirit Concussion Recovery Center website at https://dvbic.dcoe.mil/location/camp-lejeune-nc.