Veteran with TBI finds a ‘battle buddy’

As part of a 23-year career with the Air Force, John Goubeaux investigated all sorts of accidents, from aviation crashes to vehicle mishaps. His ultimate goal was always to determine what went wrong.

Then, in 2011, things went very wrong for John himself. Succumbing to heatstroke, John fell off the back of a military vehicle at Pope Army Airfield as he was preparing for an inspection. The back of his head slammed against the pavement.

It would be difficult to describe anything about such an accident as lucky, but John is convinced that the fall would have broken his neck and killed him if his watch hadn’t caught on the truck as he fell, which lessened the impact somewhat.

Still, it was a horrific accident, causing a severe arterial bleed. John underwent a decompressive hemi-craniectomy, which removed a sixth of his skull. Making his condition even more complicated, John had sustained previous concussions from I.E.Ds during four tours in Afghanistan.

He remembers waking up on a morphine drip, intubated, with no idea he’d had major surgery.

Like many veterans, John now lives with a traumatic brain injury. He suffers from severe headaches and daily, crippling bouts of vertigo. He is unable to drive. He has no peripheral vision and no sense of smell or taste.

But John, who lives in Fayetteville, N.C., doesn’t see his cup as half empty. In fact, he says, people who talk about cups being half full or half empty have it all wrong.

“Whatever you have, at least you have a cup,” he says. “You need to do something with it. Figure it out.”

John would tell you that for four years after his accident, he hadn’t figured it out. “I did nothing,” he says. “I just didn’t have the motivation. Nothing made sense.” Not only was John dealing TBI, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Things changed, he says, when The Wounded Warrior Project became a part of his life in 2015, helping him to find a path forward through its Independence Program.

LSC began working indirectly with WWP’s Independence Program through its Home and Community-based Services program in January of 2019. The Wounded Warrior Project contracts with Neuro Community Care (NCC), an agency based out of Wake Forest, North Carolina. NCC serves as an intermediary between the Wounded Warrior Project and Lutheran Services Carolinas, which was chosen as a service provider because of its experience serving those with TBI.

Working with the Wounded Warrior Project, an NCC case manager makes the initial contact with a veteran who has sustained a TBI. The case manager does an assessment and identifies the needs and desires of the veteran. NCC then requests Lutheran Services Carolinas to pair the veteran with one of their community support staff to help the veteran pursue his or her goals.

LSC works to ensure that a good match is made so the veteran can be as comfortable as possible and be able to build a solid relationship with his or her support staff. An additional benefit to the program is that caretakers, like John’s wife, Vicky, get some needed respite.

John was matched with a young woman named Casey Bennett, whom he calls his “battle buddy.” It’s clear there is both respect and fondness between John and Casey, who meet Wednesdays and Fridays. Physical fitness is important to John, so he and Casey go to the gym together and walk on the track, work out on elliptical machines, and pedal recumbent bikes. They also practice yoga, go grocery shopping, and eat lunch together.

Since he started working out with Casey in September, John says he’s lost 10 pounds and has been able to cut his pain medication in half. John has even walked a 5K wearing a 30-pound weighted vest. Both John and Casey like to “eat clean,” so they’re a good match as lunch buddies.

John is dedicated to working with Casey, whom he also describes as a life coach, to help avoid assisted living as long as possible. “With integrity, she empowers me,” John says.

John accepts that he can’t do as much as he did before his injury. He chooses daily to focus on what he is able to do. “I am only me, but I am still me,” he says, sharing a quotation that resonates with him. “I cannot do everything, but I must do something.”

“John is very motivated,” Casey says. “He’s very positive, and he has a high level of integrity and character.”

John says he just wants to keep moving forward and remain as independent as possible.

And Casey, his battle buddy, is with him on the journey.