By Katie Weber
"Polytrauma" is a term used by the Department of Veterans Affairs to describe multiple injuries that veterans have sustained during their combat deployment. One of the most common injuries sustained by our current returning combat veterans is a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). At the VA, a veteran who has sustained Polytrauma injuries or a TBI has a dedicated team that works with them to assist in recovery to help them reintegrate into civilian life. This team, the Polytrauma Support Clinic Team (PSCT), consists of multiple disciplines with specialized knowledge in treating OEF/OIF/OND veterans with deployment-related injuries.
I have had the opportunity to work with Iraq combat veteran Blake Leitch, who has sought services through the Polytrauma Support Clinic Team. Blake's convoy was hit over 20 times by IEDs; however, he experienced one of the worst explosions in September 2005. At this time, he took shrapnel to the face as a result of the IED blast. After the explosion, he briefly lost consciousness and was medevaced to Baghdad for further evaluation and treatment.
Blake states, "At first, I had no difficulties at all."
Blake had one reconstructive surgery where the shrapnel in his faced was removed and, afterward, received laser treatments. "I was going to San Diego every couple of weeks for laser treatments (on my face)," he said. Blake also stated that his nightmares began immediately and he felt as if the prescription medications were making the nightmares worse. "That was the most frustrating part, at first."
In 2009, Blake began treatment at the Danville VA Illiana Health Care System and met with the Polytrauma Support Clinic Team. Before establishing his care in Danville, Blake says he felt as if he was "hitting road block after road block."
"When I came to the Danville VA, I felt like I could live again," he said. "That whole team was phenomenal. They knew what questions to ask and made me feel comfortable. Everyone was so nice and understanding. I remember being overcome with joy and just having a second breath of fresh air whenever I came in. Everyone was a team. Everyone cared about me. It was a second chance."
Currently, Blake is working at Lake Land Community College in Mattoon. In April 2012, Blake notes that Lake Land approached him and asked if he could help write a grant. His grant was to put a veterans' position on campus to filter what they needed on campus for veterans' services.
In June 2012, Blake's grant was accepted and he was asked to take a one-year, unpaid position with Lake Land Community College to implement the grant. "I delayed my schooling so I could take the position. I knew it was going to take a lot of sacrifice because it's not a paid position, but I wanted to help other veterans."
Blake has made many accomplishments during his time at Lake Land Community College. He has created a network of student veterans who advocate for other veterans, has gotten three work study students to assist, and an office for student Veterans on campus.
Blake's veterans' group also requested priority registration for veterans at Lake Land Community College. "We were given a lot of push back for requesting priority registration for Veterans so we wrote a bill and are waiting on the governor's signature." The bill has passed, and still is waiting on the governor's signature. If signed, the bill will require over 92 schools in the state of Illinois to give veterans priority registration.
Blake is also an advisor to the Illinois Patriot Education Fund, which is a foundation that raises money for scholarships for Illinois combat veterans. Blake states that he has assisted this foundation in giving out over 40 scholarships ranging between $1,000 and $10,000 in the first four years of accepting this position. Blake was asked what his plans were going to be since his position at Lake Land Community College will soon be ending. He stated, "I want a job helping veterans."
For further questions regarding services for OEF/OIF/OND combat veterans or those who have sustained a TBI during their deployment, please contact Katie Weber (Polytrauma/TBI care manager) at 217-554-3246.
Katie Weber is the Polytrauma/TBI care manager at the VA Illiana Health Care System in Danville.