NEW ORLEANS — Brain injuries are sometimes called invisible wounds.
And many veterans experience the life changes that come with these wounds.
Now, a clubhouse-style program is helping veterans and their families become more independent, without having to go to a medical facility for help.
In his 20s, Tyler Smith wanted to show his patriotism by serving his country.
“I really think that's pretty important and I really feel that way,” said Smith, 34.
While in the U.S. Army, on a mission in Afghanistan, an aneurysm caused a brain bleed. That caused slurred speech, right side weakness and pseudobulbar affect (PBA). That causes sudden uncontrollable and inappropriate laughing or crying.
But despite his brain injury, Tyler is thriving. He is a graduate of the Wounded Warrior Project's Independence Program and now a member of Headway. That's a non-profit program embedded in the Bastion Community of Resilience, where 58 homes in Gentilly house mostly veterans and their families. Headway helps post 9-11 veterans with brain and spinal injuries through occupational therapy, social workers and rehab counselors on site where they live.
“It's the social connection. It's also just the encouragement of helping these veterans think about the things that they may not think they can do anymore, but that with a little bit of support, they actually can do,” explained Allison Tebbe, Headway Program Director
In the three years that Headway has been open, 19 veterans have come through the program and none has had to pay any out of pocket costs.
Wounded Warrior Project is one of the sponsors.
“This is truly a game changer and a life saver for individuals who will now rely less on other folks within their home and community, and rely more on themselves to really become functionally independent,” said Alex Balbir, Director of Independence Services at Wounded Warrior Project.
Before this, Tyler Smith lived in his jeep.
“I didn't have anyone to interact with and it was kind of getting a little bit depressing, not being around people, and it's really helped me to talk with others,” he said.
Before this program, marine and former proud Chippendale-style dancer Nester hadn't left his house or worked on his art in 15 years. Now he's winning national art awards.
Another veteran helps a veteran in a wheelchair off of the van. It's veteran marine Glenn Wofford who is volunteering to help his fellow veteran marine through physical needs.
“We all go through tough times and you know, it's just nice to have someone you can call. And, and, and, even if it's in the middle of the night,” Wofford said.
And that goes for emotional needs too.
Veterans and caregivers who live offsite, can also join the program.
For more or to donate to the program, visit their website here.
Or contact them:
1901 Mirabeau Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70122