THE EARLIEST SIGNS that retired Navy SEAL Dave Collins was changing were subtle enough that his wife, Jennifer, brushed them off as normal consequences of getting older. Then came the irritability and, as his temper shortened, forgetfulness. By 2012, it was bigger things. Other cognitive problems began to show. His temper was getting worse.
For all of the experts who believe chronic traumatic encephalopathy is directly linked to military service, others say there is still too little science to know, especially on the role of blast exposure. Many of the veterans who’ve been diagnosed with CTE also played contact sports, were exposed to psychological trauma or suffered concussions from falls or car accidents, making it difficult to know what caused what. Dave had traumatic brain injury, he said, like so many other former SEALs. To end his life, Dave had used a .32-caliber handgun he’d gotten the previous year to take to Afghanistan. “I wasn’t shocked,” his wife says. “I just wasn’t. By that point it was like, well, yes, I’ve watched him unravel for the past two months, and despite all of our best efforts, we just couldn’t stop the unraveling.”