When the Tusten-Cochecton library was looking for women who had made a difference in their community, it didnt have to look very far. Just down the street lives Nora Eisenberg, author of the new novel about Iraq war veterans, When You Come Home. She was presented with the Insight award at a small ceremony at the library this past Sunday. (Nora will be reading from her novel this coming Sunday, March 29 at 2:00 p.m. at the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance in Narrowsburg, NY).
The idea behind the award, according to Laura Moran, programming director for three local libraries, was to honor women who have insight into issues that affect our local community and who work to make a difference. The project is ongoing and will honor more women in the future.
Like me, Nora is a part-time resident of the county but her advocacy in war-related issues has profound local impact. As a novelist, she puts a personal touch on a global issue: that of the returning veteran who has suffered a devastating but physically hidden injurya signature of modern warfare. Brain injury, a result of the new brand of explosive devices known as IEDs, is estimated by the Pentagon to affect as many as 360,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. At least a few of those injuries came home locally.
Awareness of the condition and extent of brain injury, war-related or not, is imperative for a community, or a family, seeking to help those affected.
Just last week, the actress Natasha Richardson died after a seemingly minor head trauma on a ski slope. Many of us have walked away from the same kind of fall, refusing medical attention. Now we see how foolhardy that apparent bravery can be.
Death is only one outcome of a brain injuryeven an apparently minor one. There are a host of neurological impairments that can lead to erratic behavior and lifelong impaired functioning. We recognize the veteran with artificial limbs but we do not recognize a brain-injured vet as easily. They can become fugitives from the outside world as their impairments limit their ability to function normally. Without the support of family and society, the results can be lifelong and devastating to the community as well as to the vet.
Dr. Eisenberg (she holds a Ph.D. in English from Columbia University) doesnt just write novels. She actively advocates for veterans as an essayist and public speaker and she has an impressive command of the material she writes about. She is a valuable asset for our community as we struggle to find ways to help the scores of veterans returning from this war. One of the recommendations she and others have espoused is pre- and post-deployment neuropsychological testing of the enlisted.
A generation ago, my family sent a half-dozen of its sons and daughters off to war in Europe and the Pacific. They all came back, most with injuries that seemed to heal with time and care.
My father, they said, was never the same. He saw action in one of the bloodiest up-close conflicts, on Guadalcanal, and had shrapnel embedded in his back that you could feel if you rubbed his bare skin. They said his bouts of drinking and violence might have been from the war. But nobody ever tested the theory, and the best he got from the VA was a new set of teeth and a grave at Arlington National Cemetery after he crashed his motorcycle into a truck at age 46. He wasnt wearing a helmet and they said hed been drinking. All I remember is the sight of his body seizing in a hospital bed from the pressure in his brain. It may have been building for a long time.
March is Brain Injury Awareness Month in the new lexicon of calendars. Do what you can to help the veterans and others you know affected by brain injury. And dont ignore, as I am prone to do, the seemingly minor traumas incurred by you or your family members.
- Cass Collins