By Natalie CampbellJuly 11, 2012
FORT HUACHCUA, Ariz. - Noemy Hall first noticed a change in her husband Sgt. Richard Hall's behavior in early 2008. It started with irregular speech patterns, memory problems, and changes in his mood. This was shortly after her husband's second deployment when the couple and their two children were stationed at Fort Huachuca.
As time went on, Hall felt the changes were starting to get worse and finally insisted her husband get examined. They contacted behavioral health in 2009. Sgt. Hall, a food service specialist, was originally diagnosed with seizures. For a year his symptoms gradually became more pronounced, and Hall insisted on finding a more accurate diagnosis.
The couple then met with the Traumatic Brain Injury team at Raymond W. Bliss Army Health Center. Now that Sgt. Hall was correctly diagnosed with TBI and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Hall felt some relief at being able to move forward. But she was still struggling with her husband's hidden wounds.
It is all too common that service members suffering from similar symptoms to avoid discussing them, thinking that if they seek treatment, they would be considered weak.
"It's one of those things that service members keep quiet. They think if someone finds out, they will think that they're useless, no longer able to be strong. Keeping it quiet will make things worse. My husband kept it quiet for years. It can ruin a marriage, it can hurt. But you come back together, and learn together," said Hall.
A turning point in Sgt. Hall's treatment came when he was referred to the National Intrepid Center of Excellence at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
But the Halls began having difficulty coming up with the funds for their travel and living expenses so they could take their children along for the four-week treatment. Noemy was covered under her husband's orders, but she was home schooling the children, and there was no one in the Fort Huachuca area who could assist. A case manager at NICoE mentioned an organization that assists wounded service members, Hope for the Warriors®, which might be able to help.
The NICoE case manager informed Kathi Delay, immediate needs director of the organization, about the Hall's situation, her husband's invisible wounds, and the difference it would make if the couple could travel to the medical center together. Hall then filled out an application, and was soon informed that her expenses would be covered so she could accompany her husband for treatment.
NICoE was a positive experience for Hall, and she accompanied her husband to every doctor's appointment. It was important for her to be present, and be a vital part of his recovery.
As they both got more educated about TBI and PTSD, Hall felt it slowly got easier to talk about her husband's symptoms, and she began to feel comfortable about speaking about them with others. Hall felt a change inside herself, no longer struggling to keep her husband's injuries private.
"When it comes to TBI, one can't see it, so it's very hard to explain why all of a sudden he has the 'deer in the headlights' look, or why he starts breathing hard. It became more comfortable talking to other people because they had to learn what was happening. After going to NICoE, and being educated properly about what is going on and what to expect, it made it easier to talk about it, and explain to my family," Hall explained.
On Valentine's Day this year, Hall learned that her name had been put in for the Hope for the Warriors® Courageous Caregiver Award. At first Hall was reluctant to accept. She thought surely there would be a spouse out there whose husband had lost limbs or had physical injuries which would be more deserving of the award.
Finally Delay convinced her that she was brave. She realized how courageous she had been with her husband's treatment throughout the ups and downs, how much she'd learned about TBI and PTSD, her willingness to share this with others, and the need to speak about treating invisible wounds.
Recently Hall and her husband attended the Got Heart, Give Hope® Gala in Washington, D.C. Hall was presented with the Courageous Caregiver Award in front of attendees which included many famous celebrities.
Hall knows there are military spouses right now struggling with their Soldier's TBI or PTSD, like she once was. She stresses that seeking treatment is the first step and offers wise advice to those beginning the process.
"It can be frustrating. Be understanding with your spouse. Get educated. Push them without being mean; push them to get answers. Go with your Soldier to appointments; you are in this together. Be patient. Be there for all the tests. Ask questions. Ask lots of questions. Each doctor is different. Get many different opinions. Be an advocate for your spouse, and if you don't feel comfortable, listen to that feeling and find another doctor," Hall stated.