Veteran with brain injury: 'Freedom isn't free ... it has a heavy price'

Veteran with brain injury: 'Freedom isn't free ... it has a heavy price' »Play Video
Jose Najara in Iraq

PART TWO of a three part series. Watch KVAL News on Friday for more on Traumatic Brain Injury

KEIZER, Ore. - There is a reason Julio Najara keeps his apartment dark.

"The light is just really irritating, especially on my left side," he said. "The last couple of explosions, they happened on my left side."

Najara is a father, a second generation soldier - and a veteran living with Traumatic Brain Injury.

"Simple things like, hey, come over at 5 o'clock and we'll watch a baseball game, I have to write that down," he said. "I'll forget if I don't."

Najara joined the Oregon National Guard right out of high school. After serving for 23 years, he was called to duty in Iraq. 

His unit worked an IED corridor, an Iraqi road known for roadside bombs.

And during his deployment, he lived through several massive explosions.

"As soon as we get there, we get mortared and things are blowing up all over," Najara said. "I think the fear set in then, and it didn't really leave until we went home."

After 15 months in Iraq, Najara returned home to Keizer. But it wasn't until two months later when he started noticing the blast effects: he couldn't remember names, he couldn't remember steps like tying his shoes, and he suffered uncontrollable bursts of violence.

"What if I drink one or two beers with someone and something and I hurt him or even kill him? I've almost ran people off the road. There's no logic," he said.

Hector Rodriguez is also living with TBI. He was with Najara in Iraq and said his symptoms keep him from holding down a job. 

"Now I have a hard time even holding down a job," Rodriguez said. "I think since the last deployment I've had seven."

Doctors have diagnosed both men with TBI, but the Veterans Administration has not granted either man disability for the injury.

"Freedom is not a birthright. It's not something that's given, it's earned," Najara said. "And freedom isn't free sometimes, as Hector and I found out. It has a heavy price."

Coming Friday, Nov 5: Why are so many veterans with symptoms of brain injury not being diagnosed and treated?