Brain Research: Understanding Veteran PTSD
with Matthew Collier of the Concussion Legacy Foundation
Since the year 2000, more than 430,000 service members have been diagnosed with CTE and traumatic brain injury.
Matthew Collier, Veteran Advisory Board chair with the Concussion Legacy Foundation, joins host Tetiana Anderson to share how brain bank research can help develop effective treatments for TBI, CTE, and PTSD to protect and support our nation’s heroes.
Oct 29, 2021
Anderson: Junior Seau, Mike Webster, Dave Duerson. They're all legendary athletes in the National Football League who were posthumously diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. It's a degenerative brain disease that results from repeated hits to the head, and it's not exclusive to athletes. Due to explosions, combat and training exercises, those in the military services are also at risk for CTE, concussions, and traumatic brain injury, or TBI. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Since the year 2000, more than 430 service members have been diagnosed with CTE and traumatic brain injury, and symptoms include depression, anxiety, violence, and suicide. Joining me is Matt Collier. He is the Veteran Advisory Board chair with the Concussion Legacy Foundation, which accepts brain donations for concussion research. And, Matt, thanks for being here.
Collier: Oh, nice to be here. Thanks for the opportunity.
Anderson: So, you know, we just heard that TBI and CTE among service members doesn't really get the same attention that it does when we're talking about famous athletes. But, you know, these are people. They're real human beings. What can you tell us about some of the service members who have donated their brains so that you can do research on all of this?
Collier: Right. So, I guess I should explain that in order to diagnose CTE, for example, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a person needs to be deceased in order to actually know that they've had it. And of course, we need to learn how to diagnose it. We need to learn how to treat it. We need to learn how to prevent it, along with suicides. But I'll tell you, one person that comes to mind is a fellow named Ron Condrey, and he's deceased. He actually committed suicide in 2018. But his wife, Nicole, was on the Veteran Advisory Board here with the Concussion Legacy Foundation. But he was in the Navy for 25-some years and became angry, became indecisive, was very frustrated with his life and ultimately, as I say, took his own. Nicole wanted to do something about this, and she was in the service herself. She served in the army. So she donated his brain to the Concussion Legacy Foundation. And the reason is that the more specimens, obviously, that you have, that you could research, that you can experiment with and look at, the more specimens you have, the more advanced research you can do. So, that was the beginning of actually the program called Project Enlist, which is part of the Concussion Legacy Foundation.
Anderson: So, Nicole Condrey wanted to put this in the forefront, and we see her motivation. But that makes me wonder about you. Why did you decide to get involved in all of this and become such an advocate?
Collier: Well, first of all, I played hockey. I played hockey in Michigan, growing up, and I played at a high level in college, Division I hockey, and so I've hit my head a few times. And I was concerned about that from a personal perspective. But then I was brought in to the V.A. a few years ago under Bob McDonald to help with strategic partnerships. And really, it opened my eyes to what veterans are suffering from, as far as, you know, you mentioned improvised explosive devices and the fact that these explosions and these blast experiences in the military, along with contact sports, frankly, impacted on veterans to the point that they were having all these brain issues to the tune of about almost 20 suicides every single day. So it opened my eyes that this is a real problem. I wanted to do something about that. And one of the things we did was we created a program called Brain Trust, an event held on a yearly basis. And we brought in the best and the brightest brain researchers through the gravitas of the V.A. We brought in medical technology experts, and we had a sports twist to it because concussions were such a big deal in sports. And that's how I met Dr. Chris Nowinski, who had started the Concussion Legacy Foundation. And so there are thousands of professional athletes, but there are millions of veterans, and we wanted to leverage that spotlight on the veterans so that we could help more veterans and ultimately, really, more Americans.
Anderson: So, we can see that the NFL has certainly reached a tipping point in this conversation and really changed the conversation around all of this. But I know that you say some of the factors that the NFL relied on to do that are not necessarily open to you. What are those factors, and why do you say that?
Collier: Great point, Tetiana. Yeah, the fact is that professional athletes receive just all kinds of media attention, with, in fact, suicides occasionally in the sport. But the average veteran does not. Ron Condrey, who I mentioned earlier, did not receive that kind of attention. The hundreds of veterans that have decided to pledge their brains do not receive that kind of attention. So what we're trying to do is build awareness, pursuant to this research, to do interviews like this, to have articles in veteran service-organization magazines. We created Project Enlist in order to build that awareness and create a new culture in the military and in the veteran community of pledging their brains so that these brains are donated when people pass away. We have more brains to look at, more brains to research, and we can figure out better ways, more just all-around better ways to diagnose TBI and PTSD and CTE and treat those brain issues, as well, much better than we are now.
Anderson: It's all such an important issue to talk about. If people want to find out more about the work that you're doing at the Concussion Legacy Foundation, what's the website?
Collier: They should go to projectenlist.org. Projectenlist.org. And they can navigate in there onto the CLF website and learn a lot about concussions. They can learn about how to, for example, and very importantly, pledge their brains, as well. And it's very important. It's much like signing the back of your driver's license when you donate your organs, but it's very important for veterans, very important for research.
Anderson: Matt Collier of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, thank you for being here and thank you for your service.
Collier: Oh, thank you, Tetiana. Thanks for the opportunity.
Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well, for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, just log on to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.
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