Migraine as a Member of the Armed Forces

Written By Eula Moore-Marshall

Originally seen on MigraineHeadacheAwarenessMonth.org

Upon joining the U.S. Army Reserves, I always kept in mind the possibility of going to war. As far as migraine goes, I was familiar with bad headaches, but I’d never felt as though my brain was trying to escape my skull. I’m a (Ret) female combat war veteran of the U.S. Army and I served in the First Gulf War in 90/91. Yes, I’m a woman and combat veteran, and I served with horrendous chronic migraine pain.

I started experiencing excruciating migraine attacks during my deployment to Saudi Arabia. The pain came out of nowhere; I didn’t bump my head, there was no accident, nor did my helmet hurt. In field operations the medics were only able to perform manual testing and came to the diagnosis of tension headaches. I was given Fiorinal and Midrin, medications to relieve the pain and to get rest when possible. Needless to say during a conflict there is never time for rest and work is ongoing.

There are thousands of military/veteran’s who live with migraine disease that suffer greatly, and for 30 years I’ve been a part of this group. Migraine creates such a lack of energy, concentration, and decreased workflow, setting up opportunities for written reprimands and poor performance reviews, even leading to civilian discharges. I’ve experienced them all and provided information, such as doctor statements, disability records of my migraine attacks which seemed to be no use at all. No one cared and accommodations weren’t adhered to.

After the war, and after I returned home, my migraine attacks persisted, varying in different degrees of pain – dull, throbbing, dizziness, blackouts, auras, and lasting for three to five days a week. The DOD (Department of Defense) listed tension/migraines as a symptom of the Gulf War Syndrome, Afghanistan/Iraq. Here’s a fact – active duty soldiers and veterans working full time miss an average of three to four days or more out of the month due to migraine.

I signed up for VA healthcare and they began testing with MRI’s CT scans which showed no tumors, growths, or anything contributing to the pain I was experiencing. I was placed on Imitrex injections and pills, Ibuprofen, Advil, Botox, and acupuncture. Nothing was enough to rid me of the frequent pain in my head. I turned to the only medicines I knew would give me some relief, which was Midrin and Fiorinal. Midrin is no longer formulated so I’m on to finding new medications. And the worst part is I have somehow passed this condition on to my child.

People without migraine disease think a migraine attack is a headache and those who suffer from them are whiners, liars, lazy and fakes. When all we ask for is for someone to hear us out, try to understand or at least become knowledge able about what we go through. If people can’t see it, then it must not exist and we should continue to work like the superwomen/men that we are. I’m blessed that my family understands and gives me that support I need when it comes to my migraine.

Today, after all that I’ve gone through and continue to experience, I still suffer with chronic migraine on a daily basis. I have found a group of women and men through Chronic Migraine Awareness, Inc., who share my experiences and have taught me about this condition that I continue to endure. I’m learning everyday about new medications, how to form my questions and conversations to discuss with my neurologist about my treatment plans.

Everyone’s journey with migraine is different, but I’m determined to share my experiences with others so that their road to a pain free life is less rocky.

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