Skip to main content

Military Health System

Top U.S. Military Enlisted Leader Shares Experience of Stigma Surrounding TBI

Image of A man wearing headphones in front of his computer. Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman Ramón “CZ” Colón-López talks about his personal experience with traumatic brain injuries in a podcast with the Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence. The “Picking Your Brain” podcast focuses on the latest TBI research and clinical recommendations, the effects of TBI on military readiness, veterans, and the loved ones who support their recovery process. (Photo: Air Force Master Sgt. Michael J. Cowley)

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence

Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman Ramón “CZ” Colón-López shared his compelling story of recognizing and getting help for traumatic brain injuries on the Picking Your Brain podcast, from the Defense Health Agency’s Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence.

In an interview with U.S. Navy Capt. Scott Cota, TBICoE branch chief, Colón-López spoke about suffering from multiple TBIs, while pretending everything was okay.

“We tend to hide it pretty good until we cannot hide it anymore,” he said.

He shared his experience with the stigma surrounding TBI diagnosis, as some service members may be hesitant to speak up if they are concerned about their mission readiness. It was that reluctance that impacted Colón-López’s marriage and his overall health.

On the podcast, Colón-López, who was a U.S. Air Force command chief master sergeant before assuming the SEAC position in December 2019, explained how he has sustained up to eight TBIs. Instead of seeking help, he used to drink to excess and look for those “thrills,” − something dangerous to prove he was okay. It was not until he had a mountain biking accident that almost killed him when he realized he needed help. After being diagnosed with TBIs, he got into treatment and is now the most senior enlisted service member, by position, in the U.S. military.

Getting Help for TBIs Starts with Leadership

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, and senior leaders coming forward to talk about their treatment and medical care can inspire service members to take their own health more seriously.

Colón-López, who served as a pararescueman during his career and has deployed multiple times in support of military operations, is just one of over 458,000 service members who have received a TBI diagnosis in the past 21 years. The Department of Defense has resources to recognize and treat TBI and help service members cope, as brain health is critical to overall mission readiness. Service members and families should be willing to break the silence if you suspect you or a loved one has a TBI, as the sooner you seek help the quicker you can improve your quality of life.

On “Picking Your Brain,” Colón-López and Cota dove into the discussion on health care options available to those with TBIs, as well as the responsibility senior leaders have in addressing the stigma service members may face. “Many will not say anything, as they are afraid of being removed from their unit or being separated from the military,” Colón-López said. However, by not reaching out and asking for help, overall health and relationships can be impacted.

We Must Support the Warfighter

The podcast highlights the Defense Health Agency’s effort to bring more awareness to TBIs and to maintain a medically ready force.

“There are good products that are out there. It’s a matter of us ensuring that we’re messaging about those and getting them out to the broadest audience,” Cota stated. They discussed the holistic approach to treatment and using Total Force Fitness, a Military Health System program that provides access to psychological, spiritual, medical, financial, environmental, and nutritional resources.

Colón-López also discussed some of the causes of TBI, both on the battlefield and in training, stating, “In this position, I have found myself explaining TBI and the effects of it to some senior civilian entities that do not understand how this happens. Most of them assume it’s just either being shot in the head or being blown up in a vehicle by an IED, and they really don’t quite grasp that shooting LAW rockets and Carl-Gustafs, and being on the range firing heavy weapons—all of that stuff actually starts chipping away [at] the health of any brain that is exposed to it.”

Resources, clinical research, education, and trainings are available through TBICoE, a branch of the DHA Research and Engineering Directorate. A Head for the Future, TBICoE’s awareness campaign, has fact sheets, key information about TBIs, and real stories of recovery and hope.

Listen to the Picking Your Brain podcast to learn more about Colón-López’s story, as well as additional episodes featuring experts and real stories about those experiencing TBI.

You also may be interested in...

Addressing Family Needs: A Guide for Caregivers of Service Members and Veterans

Fact Sheet
6/8/2022

This TBICoE fact sheet includes ways to build stronger family ties and develop coping strategies for challenges the family may experience after a loved one sustains a concussion—or TBI—such as substance misuse, psychological and emotional trauma, and financial changes.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | Patient and Family Resources | TBI Educators

Intimacy and Sexuality Following TBI: A Guide for Caregivers of Service Members and Veterans

Fact Sheet
6/8/2022

This TBICoE fact sheet provides caregivers and those diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury—or concussion— with information for addressing intimacy and sexuality concerns following injury. It includes information on how TBI can affect sexual functioning and behavior, and tips on improving intimacy after a brain injury.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | Patient and Family Resources | TBI Educators

Taking Care of Yourself: A Guide for Caregivers of Service Members and Veterans

Fact Sheet
6/8/2022

This TBICoE fact sheet is directed towards caregivers and provides self-care strategies to avoid caregiver burnout and fatigue when caring for a loved one who has sustained a traumatic brain injury.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | Patient and Family Resources | TBI Educators | Psychological Health Center of Excellence

Talking to Your Child about TBI: A Guide for Caregivers of Service Members and Veterans

Fact Sheet
6/8/2022

This TBICoE fact sheet includes age-appropriate strategies adults can use to speak with children about traumatic brain injury—or concussion. It also includes tips on how to help kids cope with changes that impact the family unit.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | Patient and Family Resources | TBI Educators

Neuroimaging Following Mild TBI Clinical Recommendation

Publication
5/16/2022

This TBICoE clinical recommendation allows primary care managers to make an informed, evidenced-based decision regarding whether or not imaging is indicated following a concussion/mild TBI.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | TBI Provider Resources | Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence

2021 Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence Annual Report

Publication
4/26/2022

The 2021 Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence (TBICoE) Annual Report provides a look at accomplishments and activities from calendar year 2021.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | TBI Educators | TBICoE Research | TBI Provider Resources

A History of the Combat Helmet and the Quest to Prevent Injuries

Article
4/25/2022
Lt. Gen. George S. Patton and Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. are pictured here in 1943 wearing the standard M1 helmet, sometimes called the "steel pot." (Photo: 1st Infantry Division Courtesy Photo)

The combat helmet has evolved over time to improve protection against projectiles and shock waves to reduce the risk of fatal blows and traumatic brain injuries.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | Our History | Injury Prevention

References and Acknowledgements: Neuroimaging Following Concussion Clinical Recommendation

Publication
4/6/2022

This document acknowledges those who participated in the expert working group with the Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence and provides the resources and references used to develop the Neuroimaging Following Concussion/Mild Traumatic Brain Injury: Guidance for the Primary Care Manager.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence

Concussion Care Pathway Streamlined for Better Results

Article
4/1/2022
Dr. Gregory Johnson, Tripler Concussion Clinic medical director, conducts a neurological exam on Army Spc. Andrew Karamatic, a combat medic, having him follow his finger with his eyes, at Tripler Army Medical Center, in Honolulu, Hawaii. Neurologic exams are part of the MACE 2 diagnostic tool to assess service members’ Acute Concussion Care Pathway. (Photo: Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Hubenthal, DMA Pacific – Hawaii Media Bureau)

The Defense Health Agency has developed a comprehensive clinical care program (Acute Concussion Care Pathway) to manage concussions based on the military medical community’s many years of experience with injured service members.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence

Brain-Boosting Meal Plans Help Service Members with TBI

Article
3/30/2022
During the NICoE intensive outpatient program (IOP), staff nutritionist Ruth Clark teaches hands-on classes in the on-site patient kitchen. (Photo: Tahira Hayes (Ctr), NICoE/WRNMMC, NSA Bethesda)

Research has shown that dietary changes may help relieve symptoms that might complicate recovery from a traumatic brain injury (TBI), such as chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and sleep problems.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | Nutritional Fitness | Total Force Fitness

One Airmans Recovery from TBI

Video
3/28/2022
One Airmans Recovery from TBI

After a motorcycle accident, Master Sergeant Stalnaker started having symptoms of traumatic brain injury, or TBI. He tells his story about his symptoms and his road to recovery from physical and emotional wounds as a result.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence

Immediate Testing: How the Military Evaluates Risk For Brain Injuries

Article
3/28/2022
Pfc. Thomas Icenogle, a student in the Army’s Combat Medic Specialist Training Program at the Medical Education and Training Campus on Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, conducts a Military Acute Concussion Evaluation 2 (MACE 2) on Pvt. Alejandro Leija, while Pvt. Dominic Dubois refers to the MACE 2 card. (Photo: Lisa Braun, Medical Education and Training Campus Public Affairs)

MACE 2 allows for a quick assessment of traumatic brain injuries in the field and is similar to sports concussion checks.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence

Five Clinical Tools To Help Assess and Treat TBI

Article
3/17/2022
An Army 'gun team' brace for the concussion of a 105mm howitzer during operations in Iraq in 2008. (Photo: Master Sgt. Kevin Doheny)

Here are five new ways that doctors can diagnose and treat mild concussions.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence

Ask the Doc: Can a Concussion Affect Hearing and Vision?

Article
3/16/2022
Elizabeth Kirkpatrick, a physical therapist for the Fort Drum Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Clinic, New York, uses a model of the inner ear on Feb. 27, 2019, to demonstrate how a concussion can cause inner ear, or vestibular, damage which may result in dizziness, anxiety, depression, moodiness, balance problems and irritability to name a few. (Photo: Warren W. Wright Jr., Fort Drum MEDDAC)

Even a mild concussion can lead to hearing and vision problems.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | Vision and Hearing Loss Prevention | Hearing Center of Excellence | Vision Center of Excellence | Vision and Hearing Loss Prevention | Ask The Doc

TBICoE 2021 Publications

Publication
3/16/2022

Master list of 2021 TBICoE articles published in research journals

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | Patient and Family Resources | TBICoE Research | Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 16 - 30 Page 2 of 17
Refine your search
Last Updated: September 30, 2022
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery