The Iraq war's hidden wound
Brain injuries are common in combat, but they're not always apparent
By Robert Bazell
Chief science and health correspondent
Updated: 7:51 p.m. ET April 26, 2006
PALO ALTO, Calif. – Alec Geiss, a sergeant in the Army National Guard, broke several bones when his truck overturned in Iraq. Months after he was home and healed, his wife Shana began to notice changes in his personality.
"He was very quick to temper," she says, "[He] would get irritated at things that never bothered him before, sleeping all the time."
Alec did not perceive a problem
"I thought there wasn’t anything wrong with me," he laughs. "Everybody else was screwed up."
Dr. Henry Lew of the Palo Alto VA Hospital says it is a very common scenario.
"You don’t see shrapnel or bullets or open injuries," Lew says. "But the inside of the brain has been damaged to a point that it affects the daily function."
Veterans Affairs psychologist Harriet Zeiner says that often people will think a brain-injured vet is depressed or suffering from post-traumatic stress.
"It’s really important," Zeiner says, "that individuals out in the public know that it’s entirely possible for someone who’s been in the combat theater to have a head injury and not know it." Geiss finally had his problem diagnosed. He’s been through months of rehabilitation, but he still has occasional emotional outbursts and memory problems.
"Sometimes, a new memory will stick in there, like, I don’t know why," he says. "And then other times - there’s nothing."
Before the war, Geiss ran a construction business. Now, even though he looks fine, he knows that he can’t do that again.
"The hardest thing," he says, "is to tell yourself you’re not fine. You’re not… It’s real hard to keep everything together when you’re not together yourself and you don’t even know that something is wrong."
Like thousands of other returning Iraq vets, Alec Geiss faces an uncertain future, because of a hidden wound.