DES Recognizes Brain Injury Awareness Month

Every 9 seconds, someone in the United States sustains a brain injury. More than 5.3 million individuals live with a permanent brain injury-related disability. The lasting effects can be so significant they can impact a person’s mood, personality, career and ability to function independently. Brain Injury Awareness Month is an opportunity to remind us about the prevalence and impact of brain injuries among those in our communities, and to share resources that can help them regain their independence.

The Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) supports Arizonans with brain injuries in completing their employment goals. Further, DES serves on the Governor’s Advisory Council on Spinal and Head Injuries, where we work together as a state to raise awareness and improve support for individuals with brain injuries. While brain injuries themselves may be invisible, the impact on an individual’s life can be considerable. Fortunately, the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program helps individuals with brain injuries determine the best path forward and bring a new vision into focus, regardless of the journey that brought them here. I am constantly inspired by the work done by our VR team members.

Consider the story of Jorge Gonzalez. He worked in a high-demand field as a payroll clerk before two strokes altered the course of his life. The resulting brain injury impacted his neurological ability, mobility and breathing. He received rehabilitation as a patient at the Barrow Neurological Institute, before turning to the VR program. There he met VR Brain Injury Specialist, Debora Gerbert, who worked with Jorge, and connected him to extensive neurorehabilitation training and job readiness preparation. Later, cognitive therapy, transportation services and supportive technology helped Jorge ultimately reenter the workforce and find purpose again.

We find another example of VR’s exceptional work in the case of Alek Vujanov, whose life was also altered by a stroke. The doctors gave him a 10% chance of surviving. He did that, and more! With family support, Alek was able to overcome the impact of his brain injury on his mental health and well-being, and his mother and brother steered him to the VR program. He received similar supportive services that reconnected him with the workforce. Not only that, but he then went on to represent Team Arizona on the Special Olympics USA basketball court.

The stories continue. We find in each of them the initial devastating impact of a brain injury, followed by the support of the VR program and the promise of an independent and meaningful life. These stories remind us that the support composed of our friends, family, community, and government agencies is paramount to understanding our collective impact. I am honored to be a part of the agency there to help individuals with brain injuries overcome their challenges, and thrive.

If you or a loved one has experienced a brain injury and is in need of vocational support, please visit to learn more about how we can help.

Angie Rodgers