When one of our esteemed servicemen returns home to his loving wife, his
children and of course everything else that defines his life as it used to be, but makes the chilling proclamation that “it would be so much easier if if had just lost a leg,” something is wrong.
Major Ben Richards’ comment may
seem a bit quizzical if not downright outrageous at first blush - but when one
reads the tragic story that defines the life of this extraordinary soldier -- one that is replete with a series of brain injuries suffered as a result of a car bomb in Iraq in 2007 -- it all begins to make sense. Well, not all of it.
But one thing becomes crystal clear; when one of our esteemed servicemen
returns home to his loving wife, his children and of course everything else that defines his life as it used to be, but makes the chilling proclamation that “it would be so much easier if if had just lost a leg,” our
government needs to listen.
The story of Major Ben Richards is a tough one to hear. He was a brilliant young man who possessed an IQ of 148 and proficiency in several languages, as
well as an array of other talents that engendered glowing reviews and honors
from West Point, is now but a shell of his former self. In the wake of the repeated head injuries he suffered in Iraq during his tour of duty, Major Richards, who suffers from both TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and PTSD(Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), is having great difficulty executing even the most rudimentary tasks germane to basic everyday living. He possesses the “same
skin,” his wife Farrah says, “but is completely different on the inside.”
This same insidious residue of war that has plagued soldiers for years- including our WWII veterans and those men who fought in Korea and Vietnam as well -- has now threatened to destroy a young man’s livelihood as well as his marriage and entire family.
And that isn’t even the real tragedy here.
The real tragedy, one that is as unconscionable as it is sad, is that our government has just chosen to ignore him.
So despite months of struggles with headaches, fatigue, insomnia, fainting
spells and general inability to process things that are essentially routine
for most, Major Richards received no assistance because, in the infinite wisdom of The United States Military, if a soldier is physically capable of fighting, then he is not really injured.
With all due deference to President Obama and his declaration that we need “all hands on deck” to eradicate situations like these, the beat goes on.
In his New York Times article entitled “War Wounds,” , Nicholas D. Kristof cites that “for every soldier killed in the war this year, about 25 veterans now take their own lives.”
Statistics like this go a long way in lending veracity to the notion that at times, the greatest enemy our servicemen today face resides within.
Richards, who recently retired from his teaching position at West Point due to
his inability to focus in class, is now mired in the bureaucratic quagmire that
is our Veteran’s Administration. And while there are always fraudulent claims
that muddy the waters and make the swift rendering of benefits a little more
difficult, cases like that of Major Richards should not languish in this suspended state of oblivion for this long. It defies
logic and reason, not to mention compassion and understanding. And it is
certainly antithetical to the swift execution of the other facets of the military experience -- draft, bootcamp, specialized training and then the swift placement directly in the middle of a firefight -- all in about six months.
The average wait for a veteran to have his/her application for benefits approved is eight months. And those are the lucky ones.
Major Richards is still waiting.
And the egregious failure of our VA with regard to Major Richards in particular
remains a deplorable mystery. It ranges from circuitous responses from VA personnel regarding what benefits the Richards family qualifies for to the callous hanging up of the phone during one particular inquiry.
This, for a young man who devoted his heart, his soul and yes, his mind, to
When are we going to begin taking care of our veterans -- all of our veterans, including those who suffer from internal injuries that cannot always be seen?
Author of Echoes From The Infantry -
A novel about the psychological impact of war on a veteran and his family after WWII.