Frank J. Larkin
January 23, 2020
Dear Mr. President,
My only son, Ryan Larkin, a decorated US Navy SEAL took his life following traumatic brain injury (TBI). It is difficult to put into words the impact that your statement had on me and my family yesterday…it was a hard hit to the gut. An undeserved punch felt by every person suffering from a TBI, their shattered families, and supporting communities who struggle everyday with the consequences of insidious brain injuries.
Please explain your statement, “I don’t consider them (traumatic brain injury-TBI) very serious injuries relative to other injuries that I have seen” …followed by, “no, I do not consider that (TBI) to be bad injuries, no”. On March 5th, 2019, I stood beside you outside the Oval Office as you signed the Executive Order for the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End the National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS). I shared my son Ryan’s story, who following 10 years of valiant service to this nation, much of his time in combat, struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, moral injury and other challenges. He took his life one morning clothed in a SEAL Team shirt and red, white and blue shorts. Next to him was a shadow box that captured his numerous awards, unit insignia and his revered Navy SEAL “trident” pin. Every day Ryan suffered from a headache and struggled to understand what was wrong with him. After his death we learned that he had an undiagnosed microscopic level of severe brain injury directly related to military blast exposure. My son was a sniper and an explosives breacher, where he was constantly exposed to the concussive effects of high-powered weapons and explosives.
Mr. President, my son had “invisible wounds”, just like so many other members of active service and our veteran population. Many of these men and women trained for combat and or experienced combat operations, while others may have suffered contact head injuries from other causes. Because our current medical imaging technology cannot see this microscopic level of injury, we don’t know how many of our warriors and veterans may be suffering from impact or blast TBI. Further, there is an increasing body of evidence linking TBI (biological injury) to suicide. When the wiring in the head is damaged, things do not work normally, which is no different than a damaged power grid following a hurricane.
Mr. President, I believe that I speak for all those who have felt the injurious impact of your statement. I hope this letter serves to enlighten you to the issues related to TBI and the delicate nature of brain health. You can turn this misstep around by applying an increased level of effort to urgently drive the much-needed research into TBI and demand results from the government bureaucracies that often impede advancing injury prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation. I sincerely hope that you and your family never have to deal with TBI and its life changing consequences. I suspect that if your family had been previously touched by brain injury, yesterday’s statement would never have been made. I am available to further discuss this complex national health issue at your convenience…let me help.
Frank J Larkin
Frank J. Larkin
40th US Senate Sergeant at Arms (retired)
45 Years of Public Service
On behalf of Veterans and Families: The Asks
Offered by Frank Larkin
- Conduct a review of critical funding streams for TBI medical research to identify where funds are being stalled by bureaucratic processes. As an example, the medical researcher who discovered the unique pattern of brain injury associated with military blast exposure has been waiting for more than a year for DoD research funds promised to advance his research. This disruptive finding could offer a biological connection to PTSD, TBI, use disorders, moral injury and suicide. It is unfortunate that an urgent level of priority has not been placed on this research where there is a critical need to define this pattern of injury and disease progression. This research evolution is critical for the development of new diagnostics that would triage microscopic levels of TBI in living personnel and will inform on preventative measures and treatment protocols.
- Fund only research projects that follow and comply with international scientific design and research standards that yield “reproducible results”. Require the sharing of data into a common data environment that will enable integrated analysis, knowledge development and the advancement of brain health. Ensure project and program accountability and oversight that will validate additional investment for transition of research findings into viable therapeutic solutions and improved patient outcomes.
- Purple Heart Awards for active service members and veterans experiencing “invisible wounds” sustained in combat. Recognize invisible wounds supported by evidence of brain injury received from exposure to weapons, explosives and other concussive effects in combat. The current Purple Heart Award criteria has not been revised since 2009. My son is an example of a warrior who experienced combat and has been diagnosed postmortem with microscopic brain injury uniquely related to blast exposure. He died from his combat injuries; he just didn’t die right away. Recognition of this level of service and sacrifice will go a long way to healing the pain felt by many in our veteran community actively suffering from invisible wounds and acknowledgement to those families whose loved ones have succumbed to brain injuries received in combat.
- Review of less than honorable discharges associated with individuals who have prior diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), moral injury and associated disorders. Many veterans were discharged under less than honorable conditions because our defense enterprise could not adequately assess or provide care for changes in behavior that clearly could be associated with training for combat, exposure to combat and other traumatic conditions while serving in uniform. Every one of these veterans, who volunteered for military service, were assessed and certified as being of normal physical and mental health upon entering service. A less than honorable discharge under these circumstances is unfair, carries stigmas and often destines these veterans to a life of disadvantage and despair.
My Personal Ask
Requesting a change to my son’s honorable medical retirement finding from 70% disability to 100% disability in light of direct medical evidence of microscopic brain injury from military blast exposure. This evidence, though included in the appeal application for medical retirement, was not considered by the US Navy Board of Corrections of Naval Records. This would set a precedent for other like applications and appeals, recognizing new medical evidence of TBI and associated conditions.