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Brain-Injured Newsman Speaks Out For Returning Iraq War Veterans

Bob Woodruff’s report on ABC called “To Iraq and Back” brought to the public eye the problem of Traumatic Brain Injury (referred to as “TBI”) suffered by many of our veterans returning from the Iraq War. Through his own experience and miraculous recovery, he is now exposing this tragedy to the general public, and also providing a voice to our veterans, many of whom have served their country and are now left with a life-changing disability. Mr Woodruff’s 13-month recovery is not only amazing, but it is a purpose-driven event that will make changes in how the Veterans Administration provides long-term care for our returning veterans with TBI.

Last year, Woodruff, a co-anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight, went to Iraq to cover the war for ABC News. On January 29, 2006, he and his cameraman Bob Vogt were injured in a bomb blast that hit their vehicle. Mr. Woodruff came back to ABC on February 27, 2007 to tell his story. A special broadcast “To Iraq and Back” aired on ABC the same night. But Woodruff didn’t only tell his own story. He spoke for the many veterans who have returned from the Middle East war zone with traumatic injuries to their brains.

The story of Mr. Woodruff’s recovery is nothing short of a miracle. He considers himself lucky to have received incredible care. Not only did he have to go through surgery and grafts to repair the physical damage to his face and head, but needed rehabilitation for the unseen damage to his memory, thought processes and speech. In addition to his initial treatment upon return from Iraq, he needed constant follow-up therapy to recuperate his cognitive abilities. Coming out of a coma after more than a month, he looked at his wife who was sitting by his bed the whole time and said “Where have you been?” At first, he recognized his two older children but not his younger set of twins. Therapists and his family showed him flashcards of normal everyday objects, many of which he could not name. Thirteen months after the bombing, he has made an amazing comeback. But he still has work to do. He received first-class treatment, having been injured on the job as a reporter and being treated in major metropolitan rehabilitation facilities.

More importantly, Bob Woodruff is now giving a voice to many of our returning war veterans who are coming home with traumatic brain injuries and not receiving the level of care available to him. During “To Iraq and Back”, Mr. Woodruff introduced us to Sgt. Michael Boothby, who was injured by an IED blast in Iraq last September. Boothby got wonderful care when he first returned from Iraq. But when he transferred to his home in Texas, the VA did not have available the level of care he needed to fully recover. There seems to be a large disparity between VA services in large cities and those in smaller towns. And, surprisingly, there are veterans returning from the war with undiagnosed TBI. Not all explosions cause visible injury. There are service people coming back with impaired cognitive ability and no visible damage to their bodies. These veterans need extensive care for months and years after their injuries, some for the rest of their lives. And many of them will never be able to live normal lives again, nor support themselves and their families.

The tragedy of Bob Woodruff’s experience in Iraq has become an opportunity to call attention to the lack of VA services for many veterans returning from war with traumatic brain injuries. Returning vets need services not only when they return to the United States, but constant follow-up when they re-join their families in their hometowns. Furthermore, Bob Woodruff’s account has called attention to unseen injuries. We can see the amputees, blind, and otherwise obviously injured service people. But what about the veterans who come back and realize that their brains aren’t functioning as they should, despite no apparent bodily damage? Not all traumatic brain injuries are overt. Bob Woodruff has committed to advocating for better care for returning war veterans with traumatic brain injury. Now that he has gone through his own personal struggle, and can relate to the challenges, he can use his valuable clout as a journalist to make changes that are so desperately needed for the men and women who have served our country.

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