When the Army medically retired Capt. Charles Gatlin after he sustained a traumatic brain injury in Iraq in 2006, his wife Ariana Del Negro realized that her family’s fight was just beginning.
In fact, five years later, Gatlin was still suffering many problems in the aftermath of the detonation of a bomb less than twenty yards away from him, including dizziness, severe headaches, hearing loss, and anxiety, all of which left him unable to drive a car. But when he visited Montana’s Fort Harrison VA Medical Center for a complete evaluation, the VA decided to drop his disability rating from 70 percent to 10 percent, cutting his benefits significantly.
Del Negro believed the staff was incompetent at evaluating Gatlin’s complex brain injury, and she filed a complaint against a psychologist she thought was performing tests he wasn’t licensed to give. The Montana State Board of Licensing agreed with Del Negro, and as she told The Missoulian, the psychologist began referring veterans to neurologists for the appropriate tests after she “made enough noise.”
Del Negro continued to make noise, advocating for veterans and pointing it out whenever she felt her husband and others were not receiving the care they’d earned by serving our country. For her tireless efforts, she was named a fellow at the Elizabeth Dole Foundation in March. This organization focuses on helping military families, and named one caregiver from each state as fellows. Del Negro is the representative from Montana because of the improvements her advocacy work has brought about for veterans suffering from TBIs.
“I’m not an 18-year-old private,” Gatlin, who is now a graduate student at the University of Montana, told Eric Newhouse of the Great Falls Tribune. “I’ve got resources that I can bring to bear. But I’m really worried about those guys that don’t have the benefit of an education or other resources. I’ve done my part. I’d like just to go back to school and enjoy it, but that’s not happening. I’ve become an advocate because I want to make the system work not only for myself, but for others.”
Del Negro and Gatlin make an impressive advocacy team, serving on the advisory board for the Montana Brain Injury Center in Missoula. And as long as they are watching out, no veteran in Montana should go without treatment or benefits.