The impact of traumatic brain injury or TBI is significant within the civilian and military populations in this country and for one Physician Assistant who works on Fort Carson, identifying and helping treat our military members who suffer from TBI has been his life's work. Timothy Camasta recently was honored with the Military Service Award by the AAPA, the American Academy of Physician Associates.
I recently had a chance to sit down and talk to him about the honor and the critical service he provides to our soldiers and families, he told me, "Well, its humbling, I've been serving the military since 2007 at flight medicine at Peterson Space Force Base and moved up to here at Fort Carson specifically for the traumatic brain injury portion."
And perhaps no better person to understand and interact with our soldiers who are dealing with TBI than a veteran himself. Camasta is a veteran of the Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard and works at the Intrepid Spirit Center on Fort Carson dealing with soldiers who have survived any type or level of explosions, firefights, and the lethal reality of combat. He told me, "Most of my practice is special forces, 10th special forces group and they have a huge need there." The day we spoke he was treating a command sergeant for his ailments after multiple deployments. Camasta says he sees one to two new patients a day and then counsels another half dozen or so.
In speaking with him it was clear he is a humble recipient of this AAPA award for sure. He was honored back in May during the national conference for the academy, cited for his exemplary care of active duty military, our veterans, or medically underserved members of the community in a discipline that finally is getting the national attention it deserves.
The Veterans Administration and Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence estimate that nearly a half million U.S. military service members worldwide are dealing with some level of TBI on an annual basis, Camasta says there has always been a need to serve them but awareness and technology have allowed for more diagnosis and treatment, especially with the recent end of the 20-year war in Afghanistan. Camasta sees it first hand, "Most of the guys I see deployed 8,9,10,12 times in the last 20 years so they've had multiple concussions, some have had thousands of sub-concussive events and dozens of actual concussions."
Camasta gives a lot of credit in raising awareness to the attention given to the concussion and brain injury program developed in recent years by the National Football League, he says the military has responded in kind, picked up the ball if you will and to continue the football analogy, his job is essentially quarterbacking the response team at the Intrepid Center. After his initial consultation and frankly an honest conversation with these soldiers, he recommends the treatment protocol which is wide-ranging through constant communication with their team, "We've got physical therapy, occupational therapy, social workers, neuropsychologist, and speech-language pathologists" he says.
Perhaps at the core of it all, behavioral health, those receiving treatment have literally experienced trauma, physically and mentally. Often times he says it's difficult for them to realize they need help, and ask for help, a stigma that has been attached to military service. He adds that perhaps dealing with initial symptoms with drugs or alcohol, but TBI can also impact their home life, and their family dynamic. The stigma is particularly problematic, telling me "It was a hard wall to bust through, but they're finally realizing that I need help, my marriage is falling apart, I haven't gotten to know my kids as well as I'd like, having a hard time relating, so, that stigma is definitely decreased, it's still there but it's definitely decreased."
And he believes that his military career gives him a better perspective, and is more approachable so these soldiers feel more comfortable opening up, accepting their circumstances, and most important, making a conscious to treat it, "It's all about trust, in any part of medicine, specifically here, its all about trust and they have to know you kinda get it".
Camasta gets it all right, this national recognition is a testament to that, he says he loves what he does, and these soldiers are an inspiration. He is also proud of the recognition it brings to Physician Assistant and the tireless and many times thankless work being done in so many disciplines, "Its kind of what Physician Assistant do anyway, is serve the underserved, but yes, if we weren't here let's say for the intrepid spirit, it would be more difficult for them to get the access to the care that they need."
His treatment of Afghan veterans in particular really hits home for Tim, you see his oldest son is a veteran of that war. He told me that follow-up care after their service is over is just as important to not only maintain those practices to get better but to provide an outlet for those who may have regressed or are suffering from other behavioral health issues.