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Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis Resource Center

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On Duty in Baghdad

Eva and Joseph Briseno

Eva and Joseph Briseno

In 2003, 20 year old Army Reservist Joseph Briseno Jr., or Jay as his family calls him, was called up to active duty and shipped overseas. He was assigned to a Civil Affairs unit, delivering food and goods to Iraqi citizens while helping to rebuild Iraq in the aftermath of war.

Jay had been in Iraq less than three months when his life, and that of his family, took a fateful turn. While on duty in Baghdad, Jay was shot in the back of the neck at point blank range. The bullet severed his spinal cord, paralyzing him from chin down. He also suffered two cardiac arrests which cut off oxygen supply for several minutes, resulting in blindness and brain injury.

From Baghdad, Jay was flown to Kuwait and then on to Germany. Within a day, his parents and two sisters were at his bedside in a military hospital; Jay was in a deep coma. "When I first saw him," recounts Jay's father Joseph, "he was laying there motionless with tubes and wires all over the place."

Doctors told the family that Jay's chances for survival were very slim and to prepare his service. "As a father, I had to stay as strong as possible," says the senior Briseno, "I told the doctors, ‘I want to take Jay home as soon as possible."

The Briseno family was in a state of shock. Joseph recalls, "We were mad, confused. There were a lot of whys. We kept asking, ‘Why did it happen to him?'"

The first day became 48 hours, 48 hours became a week, a week turned into a month. Jay was surviving, unable to move, speak or eat on his own, ventilator-dependent, and paralyzed. To this day, Jay Briseno is known as one of the nation's "most severely wounded" veterans.

Back in the States, Jay was treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center then at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, VA. Joseph sensed that that his son was being given special attention, yet he still had many questions, especially about care beyond the VA system. A friend told Joseph that the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation and its Paralysis Resource Center (PRC) might be of assistance.

Joseph speaks of the experience, "I learned where I could take my son, the names of hospitals, a website I can go through, and a phone number I can call anytime."

He continues, "There are many newly wounded warriors from Iraq and Afghanistan. Most are not familiar on how to navigate the system… Their families need to stick together. They need to stay strong as a family. Our technology is better and there are more resources when it comes to SCI and TBI."

Joseph feels the VA can offer phenomenal medical services, but can not do all the work alone, especially for TBI and for vets with complex injuries such as his son's.

"We've become Jay's voice, his eyes, his ears. We keep screaming and fighting for him." As to rejections of any kind – be it coverage, service or belief, Joseph says, "Whenever we hear ‘No, no, no.' We say, "Yes, yes, yes."

There's help out there

The Brisenos, as have thousands of families, saw their son move through the VA hospital network, each center with a different strength and purpose. Other families are sometimes able to make choices for care at private clinics and centers.

Active military and veterans need to know, says Joseph Briseno, that,  "There is help out there, resources out there."

Joseph Canose, who heads the Paralysis Resource Center states, "When it comes to paralysis, we have the expertise to answer any questions that come our way."

The PRC has a team of Information Specialists ready to answer calls and emails from people impacted by paralysis from anywhere here and abroad. The center also houses the largest library of paralysis-related material in the world.

Says Canose, "We recently launched an outreach program to wounded vets and their families to let them know that we can help. We want these injured soldiers to know what we've been telling people all along facing paralysis daily, whether because of brain injury, SCI, disease or for any other reason, that they need not go through their situation alone. And to the families and support groups of those individuals, we are here for you when you need answers, support and hope."

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A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Veterans Benefits (PDF)

Military & Veterans Programs (MVP)

Angel Flight for VeteransVeterans Angel Flight (VAF) facilitates no-cost or reduced-rate patient travel services for needy veterans and their families.

Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC)The mission of the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) is to serve active duty military, their dependents and veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI) through state-of-the-art medical care, innovative clinical research initiatives and educational programs.

Department of Veterans Affairs -- Benefits AdministrationCommitted to helping veterans get the services they have earned such as patient care and veteran's benefits.

Disabled American VeteransAn organization of disabled veterans focused on building better lives for disabled veterans and their families.

Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain InjuryDCoE assesses, validates, oversees and facilitates prevention, resilience, identification, treatment, outreach, rehabilitation, and reintegration programs for psychological health and traumatic brain injury to ensure the Department of Defense meets the needs of the nation's military communities, warriors and families.

Fisher HouseThe Fisher House™ program is a unique private-public partnership that supports America's military in their time of need. The program recognizes the special sacrifices of our men and women in uniform and the hardships of military service by meeting a humanitarian need beyond that normally provided by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

Homes For Our TroopsTheir mission is to build specially adapted homes for severely disabled soldiers and their families.

Federal Recovery Coordinator ProgramThe program is designed to cut across bureaucratic lines and reach into the private sector as necessary to identify services needed for seriously wounded and ill service members, veterans and their families.

Homes for Wounded HeroesThis program assist veterans in adapting their homes for a disability that occurred serving in Iraq or Afghanistan at little or no cost for the veteran.

Fallen Patriot FundWas established to help families of U.S. military personnel who were killed or seriously injured during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Injured Marine Semper Fi FundProvides financial assistance and quality of life solutions to marines and sailors injured in combat, training, or with life threatening illness. Can help with associate expenses including purchasing of special equipment, adaptive vans or vehicles, and handicap home purchases and modification.

Military One SourceMilitary OneSource is provided by the Department of Defense at no cost to active duty, Guard and Reserve (regardless of activation status) and their families. Military OneSource is there for military personnel and their families by phone or online.

OEF/OIF ServicesOperation Enduring Freedom (OEF) Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)

Operation Helping HealProvides financial assistance to wounded service men and women returning from our current overseas military operations.

Paralyzed Veterans of America, in support of The Consortium for Spinal Cord Medicine, offers authoritative clinical practice guidelines for bladder management. Consumer guides are available to download.

Rebuilding Together's Heroes at HomeHeroes at Homesm was launched by Rebuilding Together and Sears Holdings in May 2007. Heroes at Home strives to improve the lives of all low-income U.S. service members, veterans, and military families in need across America by making necessary repairs, improvements, and modifications to their homes.

Rebuilding Together's Veterans Housing InitiativeCreated to meet the growing needs of veterans from past and present wars. The initiative serves to fill the gaps in housing modifications and repair services that retired and active service men and women struggle to meet. Working in partnership with corporate sponsors, Rebuilding Together's Veterans Housing Initiative strives to provide safe and accessible housing for all low-income veterans.

Soldiers AngelsProvides financial assistance to OEF OIF service members and veterans for financial assistance to pay mortgages and utilities.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Fact Sheet: VA and Spinal Cord InjuryOf the more than 250,000 Americans with serious spinal cord injuries and disorders, about 42,000 are veterans eligible for medical care and other benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

VA Center LocatorGuide to the over 1300 VA centers in the US broken down by region.

The Wounded Warrior ProjectSeeks to assist those men and women of our armed forces who have been severely injured during the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere around the world.

Paralysis Resource Center The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm ET. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

Reeve Foundation Online Paralysis Community Connecting people living with paralysis, families, friends and caregivers so we can share support, experience, knowledge, and hope.

Quality of Life Grants DatabaseFind resources within the PRC Quality of Life Grants Database. Search by Zip Code, State or an Entire Category.

Library Books and VideosFind resources within the PRC library catalog.

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The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern U.S. Time. International callers use 973-467-8270. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

This project was supported, in part by grant number 90PR3001, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.