Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Perspective: The war comes home to Tampa

Above: The James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa, Florida. Left: A brain-injury patient relearns simple skills.

TAMPA - Lee Jones can tell you the sound the roadside bomb made when it exploded near his Humvee. He can tell you how he rolled on the ground to put out the flames that would leave nearly half his body terribly scarred. And he can tell you he was the only soldier in the vehicle who lived.

But ask Jones a question requiring an answer with a date or time, such as when he enlisted in the Army, and his memory blurs. He stutters, stops and then begins to count out loud, an exercise that helps him visualize the correct month and year.

"May 2001," announces Jones, who was three weeks into his third deployment to Iraq when he was injured.

The power of the blast that disfigured Jones also resulted in a series of strokes that produced other problems, including aphasia, a disorder that makes it difficult for him to turn thoughts into words.

For more than a year, Jones has been recovering at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center, where doctors, nurses, psychologists and therapists are continually discovering more about the damage done by improvised explosive devices, the signature weapon of the Iraq war.

The external wounds are hard to miss, but the internal injuries, especially to the brain, are as complex and life-changing.

At 24, Jones, born and raised in Fayetteville, N.C., is learning again how to talk, to read, to drive and, ultimately, to care for his wife and 17-month-old daughter.

Read the rest at the Tampa Tribune