Skip to main content

Military Health System

Clear Your Browser Cache

This website has recently undergone changes. Users finding unexpected concerns may care to clear their browser's cache to ensure a seamless experience.

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)

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...

Article Around MHS
Dec 1, 2023

More Inclusive Research Key to Understanding Prevalence of Dementia

The Comprehensive Strategy for SOF Warfighter Brain Health surveils Special Operators throughout their careers in terms of their TBI exposures (including blast). TBI histories, and cognitive and mental health status. As part of a greater USSOCOM effort to capture longitudinal (low-level, repetitive) exposures, the policy proactively sustains and extends the lifecycle of our Forces and ensures optimal healthcare for our warfighters, during and after service. (credit: Master Sgt. Timothy Lawn)

Rather than being considered a specific disease, the National Institute on Aging defines dementia as a general term for a range of neurological conditions that affect the brain and get worse over time. It includes losing the ability to remember, think, and reason to levels that affect your everyday life and activities.

Article Around MHS
Dec 1, 2023

Walter Reed's National Intrepid Center of Excellence Scientists to Present New TBI Battlefield Biomarkers Research During 2023 MHSRS

Dr. Ping-Hong Yeh all smiles at Walter Reed in preparation for presenting new biomarkers TBI research at 2023 MHSRS. (Photo Credit: Ricardo Reyesguevarra)

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is pleased to announce that researchers from the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) will present a groundbreaking study on diagnosing traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) during the 2023 Military Health System Research Symposium (MHSRS) taking place Aug. 14-17, 2023 at the Gaylord Palms Resort and ...

Article Around MHS
Dec 1, 2023

Neuropsychiatry/TBI Unit at Walter Reed Unique in DOD

Dr. David Williamson, medical director for the Neuropsychiatry/Traumatic Brain Injury unit at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and his staff are breaking new ground in identifying and treating TBI and behavioral health challenges.  (courtesy photo)

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) has the Department of Defense’s only Neuropsychiatry/Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Unit. It serves as a referral program for Military Health System (MHS) beneficiaries throughout the defense department, as well as for congressional members needing care for the impacts of head injuries and other ...

Article Around MHS
Dec 1, 2023

Be a 'Brain Warrior' and Protect Yours

The National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC), along with the entire Military Health System (MHS), places emphasize on protecting the brain, as well as seeking treatment for brain injuries, every day.  (courtesy photo)

March is annually observed as Brain Injury Awareness Month (BIAM), and the National Intrepid Center of Excellence at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, along with the entire Military Health System (MHS), places emphasize on protecting the brain, as well as seeking treatment for brain injuries, every day.

Article Around MHS
Dec 1, 2023

U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity Pharmacist Excels as Warfighter Brain Health Product Manager, Mom, and Leader

U.S. Army Maj. Dana Bal tests a brain hemorrhage detection device during familiarization training at the headquarters of the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity, Fort Detrick, Md., Dec. 28, 2022. Bal serves as part of the Program Management-Acquisition Internship Program and as assistant product manager with USAMMDA’s Warfighter Brain Health Project Management Office. (U.S. Army Photo by T. T. Parish)

Aiming to join the Army Medical Service Corps as a pharmacist, Dana Bal graduated and earned her commission in 2008 before being awarded a Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) educational delay to complete pharmacy school. Find out why Bal credits the Army for her success as a Warfighter Brain Health Product Manager, a mom, and a leader.

Article Around MHS
Nov 29, 2023

Green Beret Teams Up with the US Southern Command Warrior Care Program Care Coalition Competes in Department of Defenses Warrior Games Challenge and International Invictus Games

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Jacob “Jake” Anthony competing in the 2023 Invictus Games held in Dusseldorf, Germany. (Courtesy photo)

Green Beret U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Jacob "Jake” Anthony was deployed to Afghanistan in 2005 on a mission to find a target. His team was breaching a door that turned out to be booby-trapped, resulting in an explosion that killed his teammate in front of him. Anthony would take shrapnel to the right frontal lobe to his brain and had to be initially ...

Article Around MHS
Jun 12, 2023

Second Cancer Diagnosis Doesn’t Stop Soldier from Competing at Warrior Games Challenge

U.S. Army Sgt. Dalton Apodaca smiles during an interview at the 2023 Warrior Games Challenge on June 1 in San Diego, California. (Photo: Mary Therese Griffin, Department of Defense)

When faced with a second cancer diagnosis in eight years, U.S. Army Sgt. Dalton Apodaca says his faith is guiding him through once again. “A man will pick his path, but God will direct his steps,” he said with confidence. He uses adaptive sports to improve his quality of life, and his favorite sport to compete in is cycling.

Refine your search
Last Updated: December 01, 2023
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery