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Alaska houses a vulnerable population to traumatic brain injuries: military personnel

BrainMatters AK is a company working to help educate people about traumatic brain injuries and help them recover.
Updated: Apr. 11, 2022 at 7:30 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - For Patty Raymond Turner, traumatic brain injuries are not a foreign concept.

“The first one was when I was in college decades ago,” Raymond Turner said. “Then I moved to Alaska 16 years ago, and I had the next three here in Alaska.”

Between her past diagnosis and having a military family background, working with service members and veterans who have been impacted by traumatic brain injuries is important work to her.

“My dad served 26 years in the Navy,” Raymond Turner said. “It’s close to my heart to be working with folks who have served or who are serving.”

Today, Raymond Turner is the owner of BrainMatters AK. Through her company, she works to help educate people about traumatic brain injuries and help them recover. However, before that, she spent a decade working with service members and veterans.

For Raymond Turner, Alaska is the perfect destination for her to work. According to the US Census Bureau, the state is home to the largest veteran population in the US. According to Raymond Turner, the current service member population also includes service members who are a vulnerable group in the military that are prone to traumatic brain injuries.

“We have the only U.S. Pacific-based, what’s called, Airborne Infantry Unit,” Raymond Turner said.

The Airborne Infantry Unit jumps out of helicopters and airplanes, and then parachutes to the ground before engaging in battle. The state also includes several other infantry units.

“As well as at least four explosive ordnance disposal units,” Raymond Turner said.

According to the Centers for Disease and Control, over 430,000 service members were diagnosed with a traumatic brain injuries between 2000 and 2020.

“Alaska is also home to compared to many other states a mostly younger veteran population so those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and traumatic brain injuries along with PTSD have sometimes been referred to as the signature wounds of those conflicts,” Raymond Turner said.

However, Raymond Turner said there is still a stigma surrounding traumatic brain injuries.

“Still that kind of military ethos is to power on through and not let your team down,” Raymond Turner said.

Raymond Turner said that the stigma persists despite being an injury that can affect anyone, anywhere.

“Deployments aren’t the only place where service members and veterans can get TBIs,‘’ Raymond Turner said. “In fact, it’s more common here at home.”

In Alaska alone, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, from 2012 to 2016 one out of every five reported injuries in Alaska included a brain injury. According to the University of Alaska Anchorage, Alaska is the leading state of deaths related to brain injuries. UAA reported that 41% of traumatic brain injuries are the results of falls, 24% are due to motor vehicle accidents and 11% are linked to assaults.

According to Raymond Turner, symptoms of traumatic brain injuries for veterans can be broken down into three categories: those that suffer from traumatic brain injuries can experience physical symptoms such as headache, sensitivity to bright lights, fatigue and nausea — in addition to mood-related symptoms such as mood swings, irritability, anxiety, and depression. Finally, cognitive symptoms include delayed processing, forgetfulness, and difficulties with word-finding.

Bringing awareness to traumatic brain injuries and breaking the stigma surrounding the injuries is critical, according to Raymond Turner, who said that by understanding the injury more, people can start to understand more of why certain behaviors may be done.

“Someone’s manager may think well, ‘they’re just not paying attention’ or ‘they don’t care enough to remember what I am talking about — when it actually might be that the person is having memory issues or slowed processing because of their TBI,” Raymond Turner said.

Turner suggests that individuals who may have had a brain injury reach out to medical professionals. Military personnel and veterans can also look online at the traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence, BrainLine, MilitaryOneSource, and VerteransCrissLine to find additional information.

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