Story by Erin Wittkop, Defense Media Activity
It was an evening seven years in the making. Retired Army Maj. Ben Richards sustained a traumatic brain injury while deployed to Iraq in 2007 when a suicide car bombed impacted against his armored vehicle. His injury was so severe that it forced him to medically retire five years later.
On Saturday, March 22, Ben’s sacrifice was recognized as retired Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli, former Army Vice of Chief of Staff, presented him with a Purple Heart during the Stand for the Troops first annual benefit concert in Washington, D.C. The crowd gave him, and his family, a standing ovation.
I caught up with Ben backstage and it was clear that he was on cloud nine.
“Receiving this award tonight, to me, validates that I’m, in fact, a wounded warrior, not just a combat injured soldier. This is a real validation and it’s very important to me,” he said.
“I spent 16 years in the Army; it’s all I ever wanted to do. [I] decided I wanted to go to West Point when I was in 4th grade. Having to be medically retired because of combat injuries was, was very difficult. Taking off the uniform … for the last time was one of the hardest things I ever did.”
Ben’s smile faded a bit as he recalled that final moment of his Army career; it’s clear to me within five minutes of meeting him that he misses life as a soldier. He rebounds though, pointing out that he didn’t have a Purple Heart when he left the Army and he does now. “The emotional difference is substantial and enormous,” he says.
Despite missing Army life, he’s very grateful he found Stand for the Troops (SFTT) after his retirement. They reached out to him after the organization’s CEO, Eilhys England, read about him in an August 2012 New York Times article chronicling his struggle with recovery.
SFTT, a non-partisan, apolitical foundation, is dedicated to ensuring frontline troops have access to the best training, leadership and equipment available to help them survive combat. In recent years, they have also created a medical task force dedicated to finding effect post-traumatic stress disorder and TBI treatments.
“Our end goal is to bring forward various [PTSD and TBI] treatments [and] get them insurance approved eventually through different studies,” Eilhys England says.
SFTT has helped Ben connect with alternative treatment methods like the use of low-dose hyperbaric oxygen treatments and autologous stem cell therapy to help him recover.
He says their support has made all the difference in his life.
“Groups like Stand for the Troops understand how alone an invisible injury feels. There are groups like SFTT that are out there and they understand what it means to be a warrior. These people most of them are warriors themselves. They understand what it means not to leave a wounded comrade behind,” Ben says.
“I would say Ben is doing amazingly well,” Eilhys says. “We’re very proud of him for that and we’re very proud to have [him] with us tonight.”
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