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'It would have been helpful to me to know' | Camp Lejeune Marine shares experience seeking treatment for traumatic brain injury

Former enlisted Marine hopes his tale will show other military members who may be struggling with mental health that they are not alone.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A former enlisted Marine at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, shared his own experience with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) to encourage other military members to seek treatment if they need it.

Dylan Burel explained, "it wasn't something that I had even necessarily realized had happened." 

He said his TBI built up over a period of years after being exposed to multiple explosions. 

"I started to notice cognitive slowdown. I was less responsive than I had always been," Burel said. "And, I started passively avoiding things like reading, writing, stuff that I had always done very, very well."

One of the moments Burel realized something was off was when his wife asked him to read a document but he couldn't understand it.

"Imagine a page of words written on the bottom of a toilet, and someone flushes it. And so they're spinning, then circling down to the middle of the bowl, and you're chasing them. And you can never find it," Burel told WCNC Charlotte.

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Burel also recalled becoming moodier. 

"I think that's something that's pretty common among Veterans, actually. I was having some really, really aggressive mood swings. And again, my wife was like, 'Hey, you've never been this way before. I don't think everything's okay. And I think you should go see a doctor talk about this.'," Burel said. "And it was the addition of the fact that I was passively avoiding basic cognitive function and having mood swings. That kind of triggered it for me that I should probably go talk to someone."

Burel eventually entered Intrepid Spirits TBI Clinic at Camp LeJeune and spent 18 months in treatment.

As part of his recovery, Burel continued his education at American Military University and earned his Bachelor in Business Administration in about 16 months. He followed that with a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Supply Chain Management.

"Whether it's an education, personal development, or professional development, it is helpful to me as a person to have something that I'm pushing." Burel stated.

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Before an Amazon recruiter reached out to him, Burel planned on going into finance after separating from the Marine Corps. He is now a program manager of fleet operations for the company in Raleigh after moving from Charlotte. 

He said success is possible at the end of healing, which is why he wanted to share his story. 

"I'm not alone in my circumstance. I think mental health issues, in general, will include mental injury, and that naturally makes you isolate a little bit. They naturally create a feeling of being alone." Speaking from experience, he added, "I think that a lot of Vets especially are very prone to hide their injuries and to hide things that they're struggling with. So, they would hear it, and they will take it with them. And it will be for them. Kind of like anyone's mental health journey is. It's deeply personal. And even just to hear it and to know it and to see that there is an option afterwards, I think would be what I needed."

The Department of Veterans Affairs says, less than 50 percent of returning veterans who need mental health treatment, actually get it.

If you are in need of support, the Veterans Crisis Hotline is available 24/7. Call 1-800-273-8255.

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