Tag Archives: treatment

TBI and PTSD: ‘There is no shame in getting help’

by Tech. Sgt. Chuck Walker, 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
edited by Meredith March, Defense Media Activity Air Force Production

As high profile cases have emerged about National Football League players and other athletes sustaining brain injuries, and as the nation has watched veterans return home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder have become hot topics.


Master Sgt. Jennifer Allara, an explosive ordnance disposal team leader at Dover Air Force Base, has experienced both.

In Sept. 2009, Allara’s EOD team at Provincial Reconstruction Farah, Afghanistan, was ambushed while out on patrol. A teammate, Staff Sgt. Bryan Berky, was killed by a sniper during the attack. For Allara, it was a wake-up call.

“We are trained to accept a certain amount of danger with our job,” she said. “I always thought in terms of me; what if something happens to me? What if we get blown up? I wasn’t thinking in terms of losing a team member in a turret.”

Upon her return from Afghanistan, Allara went to mental health and sought therapy when she began experiencing symptoms of TBI and PTSD. For her, it seemed to bring about more questions than answers.

Determined to heal, Allara recently began treatment at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence in Bethesda, Md. She will undergo four weeks of analysis and leave the center with a care plan designed to meet her needs.

Allara hopes that her example will compel others to seek help if they are experiencing problems when they return from deployment.

“There is no shame in getting help,” she said. “There is no shame in recognizing what is going on with someone and being able to reach out and help. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of your Airmen.”

For more on this story, click here.

Never saw this coming: Lessons learned in trying times

Maj. Gen. A. J. StewartBy Maj. Gen. A. J. Stewart
Air Force Personnel Center Commander

I had the world by the tail: U.S. Air Force Academy graduate, Air Force pilot, six-time commander, 30-year Air Force career, and two stars; fit, healthy and strong. But subtle problems appeared out of nowhere: occasional vertigo, mild persistent headaches, cognitive challenges, having to stop during a hard run.

I went to see the flight surgeon and was immediately referred to a Neurologist. An MRI revealed a golf-ball sized tumor on the left temporal lobe of my brain and the doctor bluntly told me, “Your life will never be the same.” I was literally stunned.

Swelling was critical and I was admitted for surgery five days later. The surgeon briefed me on all that could go wrong, but the young Air Force captain performed expertly. He gets my vote if I ever need another surgery.

The tumor was successfully removed down to the microscopic level. The question remained “why did I have a tumor?” The news from the lab was not good: malignant growth from stage IV of the worst form of brain cancer.

It was time to fight.

After a few weeks of recovery from surgery, I felt like a million bucks. My fitness and strength were returning and I was back to full duty and physical activity. I, also, simultaneously started a six-week, aggressive anti-cancer radiation and chemotherapy treatment plan.

The doctors told me I would be fatigued, suffer nausea and lack energy from the treatment. To counter those potential symptoms, I got back in the weight room, back on my bike, back on the running trail, back on the golf course and back to full time duty as commander of the best organization in the Air Force – Air Force Personnel Center!

The negative side effects never showed up. My fitness, strength and health remained good but it was also the hundreds of e-mails, cards, letters and prayers from my family, friends, coworkers and even strangers that helped me keep my spirit up.

Last week, I completed my last of 30 radiation and 42 chemotherapy treatments and I still feel great! The next critical step is another MRI in a few weeks to see if the cancer has returned. I pray for good results.

I never saw any of this coming.

I have learned a few lessons along the way that may help others who find they are facing tremendous challenges.

Be fit, be strong, and be healthy every day. Fitness is not about just passing the Air Force Fitness Test or deploying, it is about saving your life. A well rested, strong body and a healthy diet can help you fight off tough challenges when they come.

Life is short and precious. If there are things you want to accomplish in life, get busy now. “One day” and “someday” may never come. Push yourself to do more, now. Tomorrow is not promised, so do not waste a day.

Be positive. Brain tumors can be fatal so there’s no room for defeatism; you have to fight a challenge like you intend to win. Leave negative thoughts behind and be ready to endure. Run your race like a winner. Attitude may be the number one component of success.

Be open and honest, up and down the chain. Our Air Force is a family. I have received the support of literally hundreds of kindred Airmen, with a big “A.” The Air Force has proven itself a family from our senior leadership to our youngest Airmen, including civilians and supporters. If folks know your challenges, they can help. My AFPC and A1 family have been magnificent. They have opened their arms and hearts, and carried me through the tough times.

Be a bouncer. Bad things sometimes happen. It is not a question of whether you will take a fall so, get over it. The question is will you bounce back. It is really up to you. Be tough minded – you are a warrior! Think like a winner and bounce.

Love your family. My wife, Areetha, has been the “wind beneath my wings” and my rock. She has been beside me every step of this journey and she insists I keep a positive attitude. She ran the Marine Corps Marathon last fall at age 50! She is 100% positive and endures. I thank God for having her as my wingman. My Mom, sisters and extended family have also been my cheering section. They are irreplaceable and I love them dearly.

This is a tough, unexpected fight and it is not over. Our most humble “THANK YOU!” from Areetha and me. We are overwhelmed with your support, words of encouragement and prayers.

I’ve cleared a few hurdles but the fight is still on. I intend to win.