Special to the Village News
The men and women who have served our country have made numerous sacrifices and deserve our respect, but veterans like Greg Peterman are in a special category.
Greg, now a veteran Green Beret,* began his Army career in 1993 and served seven tours, in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, Lebanon, and more.
"For over 10 years I was never home with my family consecutively more than 90 days out of a year," Greg said. "The operation cycle [is] just outrageous. It's so non-stop." He endured the type of hardships every day that we wouldn't be able to understand in living a strictly civilian life.
While Greg has earned the undisputed rank of "hero," it has come with quite significant cost. He has suffered Traumatic Brain Injury.
According to UCLA Health, "Traumatic Brain Injury is an injury to the head arising from blunt or penetrating trauma or from acceleration-deceleration forces associated with any of the following: decreased level of consciousness, amnesia, other neurological or neuropsychological abnormalities, skull fracture, diagnosed intracranial lesions, or death."**
"In the invasion of Iraq, I was a little too close to the front door when we were blowing the hinges off of it; [as] I kept edging up ... it went 'boom,'" Greg explained. "I basically ate all the overpressure, which concussed me." Greg was thrown to the side by his fellow Green Berets and the target was assaulted.
Between his third and fourth tour, Greg started getting headaches, but had yet to be diagnosed with migraine. At that point in time, he said, "I wasn't really sure what a migraine was."
Migraine is usually described by debilitating attacks that last from four to 72 hours. They can vary between moderate and severe pain intensity, cause nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light or sound.
Awareness of a migraine condition is important for treatment purposes. Unfortunately, it is still chronically under-diagnosed, even though it is the third most prevalent illness and one of the 10 most disabling illnesses in the world, according to the World Health Organization.
It was a few short years later when Greg experienced a secondary event resulting in TBI.
This time, Greg said he "ended up smacking a T-wall (a 14-foot tall, 3-foot-thick concrete barrier) at 50 mph in an armored gun truck and came to a dead stop."
The impact of the accident caused him to hit his face and helmet on the windshield, knocking him unconscious.
"I think it was after that deployment that I started recognizing that I think I have a migraine," he said.
When first treated, Greg didn't have success with migraine remedies that were on the market at the time. The combination of TBI, migraine, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder weighed heavily on Greg.
He admitted that he "was highly irritable and irrational." Life became very difficult. When he was at home with his family in-between deployments, Greg said, "I would just go hide in my closet. I put down this camping sleeping pad in my closet and I would shut the door and I would hide from everything and sit there and curl my toes until my migraine dissipated – anywhere from four to eight hours," he said. Greg was just trying to survive.
Then he became aware of the medication Nurtec ODT, developed by Biohaven Pharmaceuticals.
Once he began taking Nurtec ODT, Greg said, "I went from being an absent father, you know, not present [and] highly irritable, to doing the things I enjoyed... that I had been avoiding for years because of migraine." For example, he was able to start going to his children's soccer games.
Upon exiting military life and entering civilian life, Greg confided that he didn't open up to others about TBI and migraine right away. This is understandable given that when he was on active duty and in the special operations world, there is and probably always will be the stigma of worrying if weakness is shown, a soldier could be reassigned.
"So, you don't say [any]thing," Greg noted. "You just suck it up and keep going."
Now, since retiring, he is opening up more about his struggles in order to help empower and inspire others to seek help. In addition to that valuable practice, Greg has taken a big step further by starting a nonprofit called Blue Ridge Safehouse ("BRS"), a 501(c)(3).
Through his own experiences, Greg identified a vital need and has worked hard to help others. When asked what the transition is like for a Green Beret who has arrived back home after deployment, he painted a clear picture.
"The best analogy I came up with is like when it was time for me to deploy before I left my front door, I would turn the family light switch off because I had to go do things – bad, nasty things," he said. "I had to be focused in order to keep me alive and my buddies alive."
He explained how he went "from the battlefield conducting combat operations to 24-36 hours later being in a drive-thru coffee line" with family members. It's a transition that is of a polar opposite nature.
He also explained that when he got home and prepared to flip that family life switch back on (which previously felt like it was at waist level), it wasn't at that level anymore. "Now, it's like 30-feet up at the highest point of your ceiling in your house and you've got to figure out how to get up there and try and figure out how to turn it back on."
With Nurtec ODT alleviating his migraine pain, Greg was able to pursue his hopes and goals of creating BRS in West Jefferson, North Carolina.
"The essence of BRS [is] based off all my personal experience with all my deployments and what I made my family suffer through," Greg said. "I saw a need that wasn't being met. Our mission statement is to help the Green Beret reintegrate to family life post-deployment."
Green Berets and their families are fully hosted for the weekend, provided with a beautiful cabin, fun activities of their choosing, delicious meals at restaurants, and the goal of "no stress involved... and to focus on their family," he explained.
"They don't have to plan anything; they don't have to pay for anything. They just have to show up and focus on their family and develop memories that will hopefully last a lifetime," Greg said, describing the small mountain town it is located in as "just beauty everywhere." The wonderful community of West Jefferson and its businesses are fully supportive of BRS and donate at every turn.
In addition to all comforts being met, Dr. Pearl Wong, of the Lotus Group in Charlotte, NC, provides free therapy for the families. She specializes in patients who have experienced severe trauma.
Each family that visits must take part in one therapy session, which Greg said, "the family can decide to use that for the Green Beret, [or] the wife, for marital counseling, or for their children." And upon leaving, families are offered "an additional 10 free sessions for which I have secured donors."
"We offer [Green Berets] a private means to get help," Greg clarified. "They now have an outlet that they don't have to fear reprisal from the military."
This is just part of Greg's effort to break the stigma of talking about mental health, about traumatic experiences, about anything a family of a Green Beret would like to share, in an open, safe space.
Through his success with Nurtec ODT, Greg's non-profit has been working with the Rick Ware Racing Team, which allows him to take active-duty Green Berets to NASCAR races.
"Prior to Nurtec ODT, I would have never been able to attend [races]," Greg said. "It's so loud. I was just recently at a night race [and] all the lights are on, the smells, the fumes of the fuel – all that stuff would have fired up a migraine in a heartbeat."
"I get to do all that now because I take Nurtec ODT," he confirmed.
Since Nurtec ODT is both an acute and preventive migraine medication, he can opt to take it in advance of a commitment or at onset of migraine; by "[popping] my Nurtec ODT, because it's dissolvable and it tastes good; within about an hour my migraine is gone." Greg doesn't experience the minimal side effects such as nausea, indigestion and upset stomach.
Greg is a profound example of how a man's unwavering service to his country led to unimaginable injuries, but one pharmaceutical remedy not only provided him with relief from migraine but allowed him the opportunity to make a second tremendous contribution to our society. With his strength and compassion for others, Greg has reached out a helping hand that isn't going unnoticed.
"There's no one more deserving of America's help than Army Green Berets," Greg said.
To learn more about Greg's 501(c)3 non-profit and how to make a donation, if you'd like to, visit https://www.blueridgesafehouse.com/.
To read more about Nurtec ODT from Biohaven Pharmaceuticals, visit http://www.nurtec.com.
*"The Green Berets are America's premier special operations force. The tip of the spear in the United States' fight against diverse enemies worldwide, Green Berets are experts in unconventional warfare, counterterrorism, foreign internal defense, reconnaissance, direct action, hostage rescue, and other strategic missions."
Shelby Ramsey is the author of the blog, thehonestmigraine.com, which also features interviews with patients and medical experts.