TBI chronicles, part 2: When Energy and Acronyms Accrue!

When I last wrote about the development of MSIM/nh, I was describing my great luck in connecting with neurologist James Whitlock. Well, the lucky streak continued throughout the spring when I met an extraordinary woman named Jo Moncher–who then opened so many doors for me that I’m still breathlessly running through them! (And I’m running through them while reciting all the new acronyms I’m learning: did you know that CBRNE stands for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosive? And that CERFP stands for CBRNE-Enhanced Response Force Package? )

Jo Moncher is herself an Air Force veteran and she holds a unique position in the NH Department of Health and Human Services: she is the Bureau Chief of Community-Based Military Programs. (No other state in the country has one!) As I have been learning, the “dispersed military” of New Hampshire are mostly National Guardsmen who live, work, and study as citizen soldiers and do not have the support of military bases with facilities just for them. So there is a real need for community-based support providers who are aware of the needs of the military service members, veterans, and families among us and the particular issues they may face. Of course, traumatic brain injury incurred over one or multiple deployments is one example of the “invisible” challenges that Jo Moncher is working to address through the development of such programs.

I found Jo’s name at the bottom of a .pdf file about the NH National Guard’s Deployment Cycle Support Program–that’s a really neat partnership between the NG, DHHS and Easter Seals that provides a care coordinator to families with a deployed service member. The DCSP coordinators help the families to manage the many stresses imposed by the long separation of deployment, as well as the difficult adjustments when the service member returns home. So I emailed her with a description of MSIM/nh and the great news that I’d already connected with the Brain Injury Association of NH. I was really hoping that she might be the person to finally hook me up with the military. I was having trouble with that piece and I was almost ready to go to the recruiting office if I didn’t find another way to get their attention!

Well, within hours of reading my email, Jo was on the phone to me, and her enthusiasm for involving me in her work to support New Hampshire’s military was exciting, humbling, and hilarious all at once. Put simply, Jo makes you want to join up, NOW. She makes you want to drop and do fifty, or pick up that heavy load, or bust out your #2 pencils and your thinking cap–STAT! She first thanked me for my work and told me I was doing a great service for the state. (You should have seen my spine straighten up with pride!) Then she proceeded to tell me “just a few things” I might not know about the work being done around TBI in the state. For Jo doesn’t wear just *one* hat–she’s also the Chair of the state’s Commission on PTSD and TBI, and a member of the Military-Civilian TBI Collaborative, and a gazillion other important things I’m sure I don’t know about yet. As she updated me on who was doing what to identify and provide services for veterans with traumatic brain injury, she had her email open, and she was firing off messages to me with pertinent dates and locations for Commission and Collaborative meetings. By the time I hung up with her, my Inbox was full of messages from Jo, copied to various other people, in which I was being introduced, and invited to join meetings, and exhorted to share details about MSIM/nh with everybody I’d meet when I got there.

And so it went! As April and May unfolded, I made the acquaintance of many, many intelligent, big-hearted, helpful, curious, informative, energetic, creative people–all of whom are working to build civilian-military partnerships to improve medical and mental health care for service members and veterans. Happily, Jo Moncher is at many of these meetings, so I get to watch her light a fire under people again and again and again. She’s so marvelous to behold when she gets things going that you want to bring popcorn and a deck chair and just bask in her energy. Or maybe hold your Bic lighter aloft and sway side to side with it. Actually, no–what she made me feel was itchy to do MORE. So! I took notes, I shook hands, I marked my calendar–

–and I headed off to the two-day New England Civilian-Military Cooperation Conference on Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury in Chelmsford, MA. Which is where I met NH National Guard Adjutant General Reddel (whom I learned is called “TAG” for “The Adjutant General”); Sgt. Matthew Pennington of “A Marine’s Guide to Fishing”; Lt. Col. Steph Riley, also of the NHNG and now the official BFF of MSIM/nh; conference coordinators extraordinaire Tammy Masse (of the Naval Health Clinic New England) and Donna Beaudin (of Northeast Rehab); and many others, several of whom I will describe in my next post. Oh! And I also spent some time over those two days talking with Ron Snow, who is the Director of Marketing and Development for BIANH, and the Associate Director of the Boston-Portsmouth Air Show. Head on out there on July 1st, when the Pull for Wounded Warriors will raise funds for BIANH! Lastly, the NH Commission that Jo chairs is gathering data on NH veterans through their SHARE survey: please encourage any veterans or service members you know to complete this confidential survey, as it will help inform legislation and funding for veterans’ services!