Reflections on Veterans Day

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Maj. Ben RichardsYears ago when I was a young Army lieutenant, my reconnaissance platoon was preparing to conduct a night-time helicopter insertion far behind enemy lines to seek out intelligence critical for a large-scale operation to be conducted 48 hours later. The operation was high risk. That night as I back-briefed my Troop commander over the hood of a Humvee  in the German woods, I expressed my concern about the level of danger the platoon was facing.

My boss, an experienced cavalry scout himself who had served as an enlisted soldier and noncommissioned officer before earning an officer’s commission, replied directly: “If you get into trouble, we will roll this entire brigade to come and get you.”

At that time the war in Iraq was still over a year in the future, and the risk was largely hypothetical, but I wondered whether the Army would really risk a brigade of 3,000 to 4,000 soldiers and hundreds of armored vehicles to rescue a few men in a desperate situation. And then I didn’t think about it again.

That is until I was leading men in a real war in Iraq. In November of 2006, my Cavalry Troop was in the process of moving from Tal ‘Afar in northwest Iraq to Taji, a large operating base just outside of Baghdad. The night before our movement, a special operations team had been conducting a raid deep in the al Qaeda-controlled hinterlands of the infamous Anbar province. The raid had run into trouble and a large force of al Qaeda fighters was closely engaged with the small special operations team.

A pair of Air Force F-16 fighters scrambled to provide air support for the troops, but because the fighting had moved to such close range, they could not use their normal load of bombs without risking the lives of the men they were trying to save. With no good options, one pilot, Major Troy Gilbert, volunteered to conduct a highly-dangerous low-level night-time strafing mission in order to employ his aircraft’s 20mm cannon which could be used much closer to friendly troops.  On completing the diving attack, his plane was unable to pull out in time and crash landed in the Anbar desert.

Although he had been unable to eject, the aircraft was largely intact and it was possible that MAJ Gilbert had survived. On that chance, my Troop and over two thousand other US combat troops—an entire Army Brigade’s worth – were quickly dispatched to rescue the pilot. We had just arrived in Taji and had not even unpacked, when we sortied into the desert.

The area had never been under US control and the roads were littered with large and deadly Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). The going was slow and occasionally punctuated by the ambush of al Qaeda fighters. We reached the crash site and then searched the surrounding desert and villages for four days until we were able to find forensic proof that MAJ Gilbert had not survived the crash. After an extended search other soldiers were able to locate and bring home his remains.

During those nights in the desert, I remembered another night in the German woods and realized that I was helping to fulfill a promise made not just by my commander, but by millions of American soldiers over hundreds of years. The risk MAJ Gilbert accepted was extraordinary. As an experienced pilot, he was fully aware of the danger and the cost he might have to pay to save the lives of a few Army soldiers.

Our mission to find MAJ Gilbert was the most dangerous we had conducted up to that point. As we rolled out into the desert, we also knew the risks and willingly accepted them—also at a cost. In my unit, Corporal Billy Farris, also a young father, was killed in an ambush during the operation.

What stands out about Troy Gilbert and the incredible men and women I had the privilege of serving with was their belief in the infinite value of the life of another soldier.

Unfortunately, after returning home from Iraq as an “invisibly wounded” veteran with Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, that was not the ethos I found at home, particularly in the very institutions created to care for nearly one million combat-disabled veterans like me. In 2012, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof observed in the New York Times, “if you want to understand how America is failing its soldiers and veterans, honoring them with lip service and ceremonies but breaking faith with them on all that matters most, listen to the story of Major Richards.”

What is exceptional about Kristof’s statement is that he made it after I had been provided the top level of care available within the DOD and VA medical systems—a level of care only a few hundred service members a year were given access to. However, these alleged best efforts were only a façade.

Suffering from daily, debilitating pain and unable to function in most facets of life including interacting with my wife and our four children, I began to seriously consider suicide. That was when Stand for the Troops came to my rescue and joined me in my personal battle against the invisible wounds of war. They arranged for me to receive several months of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) from one of the leading practitioners in the country, Dr. Paul Harch at Louisiana State University (who provided the treatments for me at his own expense).

It was the first genuinely effective medical care I had received since returning home, and it has restored much of my life. Today I am a productive and contributing member of society, with a loving family and a high quality of life.

As we reflect this Veterans Day on the blessings derived from the service and sacrifice of so many men and women and their families, we begin to realize the magnitude of the task before us in living up to legacy heroes like MAJ Troy Gilbert.

I am pleased to report that there remain many great Americans, both in and out of uniform, who share the belief in the infinite value of a soldier’s life. Please join me in supporting Stand for the Troops in making sure the nearly one million veterans disabled by TBI and PTSD finally get the genuinely effective care they deserve.

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SFTT Medical Task Force to Focus on PTSD

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Dr. Henry Grayson, Ph.D., Co-Chair of SFTT’s Medical Task Force – Is a  psychologist practicing in New York City and Connecticut. He has a PhD from Boston University, as well as a postdoctoral certificate in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy from Postgraduate Center for Mental Health and a Theology degree from Emory University. He is the author or three books, founded both the National Institute for Psychotherapies and the Institute for Spirituality, Science and Psychotherapy, and the Association for Spirituality and Psychotherapy.

Dr. Frank M. Ochberg, M.D., Co-Chair of SFTT’s Medical Task ForceA Psychiatry professor at Michigan StateUniversity with degrees from Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, Stanford University and the University of London. Formerly an associate director of the National Institute of Mental Health, more recently he has been involved with numerous organizations dealing with PTSD including founding Gift From Within, a non-profit PTSD foundation, and consulting at Columbine High School in Colorado. In 2003 he received a lifetime achievement award from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.

Dr. Grant Brenner, M.D A graduate of the New Jersey Medical School and as assistant clinical professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine Beth Israel Medical Center. He is a member of Physicians for Human Rights and the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation. Dr. Brenner is the director of trauma services at the William Alanson White Institute, a board member at the Disaster Psychiatry Outreach, and the author of Creating Spiritual and Psychological Resilience-Integrating Care in Disaster Relief Work.

Dr. Eric D. Caine, M.D. – A Psychiatry professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center School of Medicine and Dentistry. He is a graduate of Cornell University and Harvard Medical School, and a chair of the department of Psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center School of Medicine and Dentistry. In 2001 he received the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry’s Leadership in Training Award for Chair of the Year.

Dr. Robert Cancro, M.D A professor and chairman of psychiatry at the New York University Medical Center. He is a graduate of SUNY Downstate Medical Center, has served as the director or the Nathan Kline Research Institute, a long time consultant of the U.S. Secret Service, and the recipient of numerous awards in the field of mental health including the New York State Office of Mental Health Award and the Irving Blumberg Human Rights Award.

Lorraine Cancro, MSW – A psychotherapist with a Masters from the New York University Silver School of Social Work. She is the executive director of the Global Stress Initiative, a senior consultant at The Barn Yard Group, and formerly the director of business development and military health editor at EP Magazine.

Jaine L. Darwin, Psy.D., ABPP A graduate of Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology is a psychologist-psychoanalyst specializing in trauma and PTSD, relationship issues and depression. Dr. Darwin has run a volunteer organization SOFAR that provided services to family members of military service members and veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kathalynn Davis, MSW – A psychotherapist with Masters from Columbia University, a certified Sedona Method Coach, Life Coach certified at New York University and Practitioner for International Institute for Spiritual Living.

Dr. Stephen V. Eliot, Ph.D.,  A Psychoanalyst with private practice in Westport CT.

Dr. Mark Erlich, M.D. – is a graduate of the of Profiles & Contours, a clinical assistant professor at New York Medical College and Downstate Medical Center College of Medicine, and a clinical instructor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He is also the president of the New York Facial Plastic Surgery Society.

Dr. Mitchell Flaum, Ph. D. – A clinical Psychologist with private practice in New York City.

Dr. Joseph Ganz, Ph.D.,  –  A psychotherapist and a graduate of the Stress Reduction Program from the University of Massachusetts Medical School.  He is also trained in couples and family psychotherapy and is the co-founder, co-director and faculty member of The Metropolitan Center for Object Relations-New Jersey.

Dr. Stephen Gullo, Ph.D.,  –  received his doctorate in psychology from Columbia University, and for more than a decade, he was a professor and researcher at Columbia University Medical Center. He is the former chair of the National Obesity and Weight Control Education Program of the American Institute for Life Threatening Illness at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. His first book, Thin Tastes Better, was a national best seller as was his second book, The Thin Commandments.  He has been interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, Larry King, and Barbara Walters and has also made numerous appearances on Today, Good Morning America, and Hard Copy. Dr. Gullo is currently president of the Center for Health and Weight Sciences’ Center for Healthful Living in New York City.

Joan S. Kuehl, L.C.S.W. –  Is a social worker with private practice in New York City.

Dr. Judy Kuriansky, Ph.D., –  A graduate of New York University, an adjunct faculty member at the Teacher’s College Columbia University and at Columbia Medical School. She has
provided “psychological first aid” after bombings in Israel, SARS in China, the tsunami in Asia, and after 9/11 in the US. She is a representative to the United Nations for the International Association of Applied Psychology and the International Council of Psychologists.

Dr. Robert Rawdin, D.D.S. –  A graduate of the Northwestern University School of Dentistry and New York University. He is a diplomat of the American Board of Prosthodontics and currently serves as president-elect and program chair of the Northeastern Gnathological Society. He is also a clinical assistant professor at the New York University College of Dentistry.

Dr. Stephen Ross, M.D.  A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and the UCLA School of Medicine. He is the director of the division of alcoholism and drug abuse at Bellevue Hospital, director of the NYU Addiction Psychiatry Fellowship, and director of the Bellevue Opioid Overdose Prevention Program.

Dr. John Setaro, M.D. – A graduate of Boston University, and a resident and fellow at Yale-New Haven Hospital, as well as an associate professor of medicine at the Yale University School of Medicine.

Editor’s Note: While these notable physician give freely of their time, there still remains the task of supporting our troops with “more than lip service.” The needs of our brave warriors are great and SFTT looks to your contributions to help support our Investigative, Information and Intervention campaigns. As a 501(c)(3) educational foundation, we rely on the contributions of concerned Americans to help get the proper treatment to those who need it most. Contribute what you can.

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Support Major Ben Richards

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Major Ben Richards Fund

Major Ben RichardsAs many SFTT readers are aware, Major Ben Richards suffered debilitating injuries while serving in Iraq.  His poignant story was featured in a lengthy column in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof in August.  Prompted by that story and the lack of support he has received from the VA, SFTT put Major Ben Richards in touch in Dr. Paul Harch who accepted Major Richards into the Harch Hyperbarics program, a cutting-edge alternative to deal with traumatic brain injuries and brain disorders.

As reported earlier by SFTT news release Major Ben Richards Is Not Forgotten, our “You Are Not Alone” campaign needs your support to help Major Richards and his family to recover from this serious injury.  Please contribute what you can.  Warriors like Ben Richards deserve our support and that of a thankful nation.



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