A retired Airman is revealing his personal struggles with traumatic brain injury in hopes of encouraging others to seek help.
Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Adam Boccher was injured during a deployment overseas in 2006 while mounting a weapon on a Humvee for patrol. He heard a rocket launch and knew it was heading straight for him. There were just seconds to make it to safety by getting low to the ground or be riddled with shrapnel. He dove off the top of the Humvee, sustaining an injury that changed the course of his life and that of his family.
Boccher knew something was wrong as soon as he returned stateside, but chalked it up to a long and hard deployment with tough jobs as an agent with the Office of Special Investigations. He thought time would help him adjust until he began experiencing sensitivity to light and noise, and then the nightmares started. He would wake up kicking and punching his wife, Brittany. He convinced himself and Brittany that it would get better in time.
“This is something I’ll work through and figure out. This stays between us,” he said to her. He adds, “I put that on Brittany, I did that. That’s on me, it wasn’t right.”
He says this code of silence between military couples is a common theme.
“You are scared that if you speak up you’ll lose your clearance or even your ability to be in the service, so you stay quiet and you expect your spouse to do the same,” he said.
Boccher continued his work as an OSI agent within the major crimes unit. Day in and day out he was exposed to the worst of humanity. If he undressed in the garage before coming into the house, his wife knew that meant there had been a suicide or homicide. There were times command would address the agents as a group to say if anyone needed to take time due to the case being especially difficult, they could. But the agents would all look at each other and go right back to work. None of them wanted to be that one person going into the command’s office because of fears of how it would look or what it would mean for their jobs. So, they boxed up the trauma and kept going onto the next case.
During this time of turmoil for the Bocchers, the couple was also trying to have a family. A few days after their third miscarriage he got a call from a detective in Colorado Springs, Colorado, that would fracture what little he had holding things together. An Airman had beat his 7-week-old baby to death. As he describes the eventual autopsy he had to sit through of baby Enzo, tears rolled down his cheeks.
“I couldn’t talk to Brittany about it. Everyone in the office was new, they were looking to me to see how I would handle myself. How I moved forward was going to be how they moved forward. I wanted to do something, but instead I tucked it away and tried to move on. But those kind of cases, they just kept coming,” he said.
Boccher’s mental health continued to deteriorate, even after the couple’s hopes of having children were answered with the birth of two babies. He began to drink as a way to numb out the negative thoughts in his head and sleep at night. Pretty soon he was avoiding his family, leaving before they got up and coming home from work when they were in bed. It wasn’t until he was discovered passed out behind the wheel of his truck and got arrested that things changed. He was immediately put into the medical treatment he desperately needed through the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program, a Congressionally-mandated and Federally-funded organization tasked with taking care of U.S. Air Force wounded, ill, and injured Airmen, veterans, and their families.
AFW2 assigned Boccher a recovery care coordinator who evaluated his records all the way back to that first deployment. His symptoms and subsequent tests led to a diagnosis of a traumatic brain injury from the fall off the Humvee. With his TBI came the diagnosis of rem sleep behavior disorder, which was what was causing him to act out his dreams violently. He was also diagnosed with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder.
The program itself aims to get Airmen back to service, but unfortunately Boccher’s injuries were not compatible with continuing an active-duty career. Though he admits disappointment that he had to retire, he credits AFW2 with saving his life. AFW2 allowed him to retire with dignity and with his clearance intact, he says.
“Other services would benefit substantially from a program similar to the Air Force that would fit within the needs of their mission set. They are all hurting just as much as we are,” he said.
He implores Airmen to trust the program and the people who are there, including himself. Boccher now shares his story as an AFW2 ambassador, hoping others will know they aren’t alone.
“It’s such a critical moment, the moment someone reaches out and needs help. That’s oftentimes the moment between whether someone lives or dies,” Boccher added.
Visit Air Force Wounded Warrior Program to learn about the services that are available.