On Duty in Baghdad
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."
Department of Veterans Affairs -- Benefits AdministrationCommitted to helping veterans get the services they have earned such as patient care and veteran's benefits.
The Department of Veterans AffairsProvides two Multiple Sclerosis Centers—a center in Baltimore and a West Coast center that shares sites in Seattle and Portland.
Disabled American VeteransAn organization of disabled veterans focused on building better lives for disabled veterans and their families.
Homes For Our TroopsTheir mission is to build specially adapted homes for severely disabled soldiers and their families.
Soldiers AngelsProvides financial assistance to OEF OIF service members and veterans for financial assistance to pay mortgages and utilities.
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.
Library Books and VideosFind resources within the PRC library catalog.
Quality of Life Grants DatabaseFind resources within the PRC Quality of Life Grants Database. Search by Zip Code, State or an Entire Category.