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Trump downplayed brain injuries. This dad whose veteran son died by suicide called him out.

Frank Larkin lost his son to a traumatic brain injury. When Trump downplayed the seriousness of these injuries, it felt like an "undeserved punch."

Trump downplayed brain injuries. This dad whose veteran son died by suicide called him out.
Image Source: President Trump Joins Coronavirus Task Force Briefing At White House. WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 09. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

There is no end to all the ridiculous, baseless things that seem to fall out of United States President Donald Trump's mouth. At the beginning of the year, the President claimed he did not consider traumatic brain injury (TBI) to be "very serious injuries relative to other injuries that I have seen." He was referring to the incredibly severe injuries sustained by members of the United States military during the Iranian missile attack against the al-Asad airbase in Iraq which took place this January. Frank Larkin, who lost his veteran son to suicide in 2017, was one of the people who heard Trump's statements. His son struggled with his mental health because of a traumatic brain injury, reports later showed. Though Larkin initially praised the President for signing an executive order so as to create a task force that would work on preventing veteran suicides, he has now lost faith in Trump's campaign promises. He voiced his thoughts in an open letter, CNN reports.



Larkin is a former United States Senate sergeant-at-arms himself. In his open letter, he pointedly described Trump's statements as "an undeserved punch felt by every person suffering from a TBI, their shattered families, and supporting communities who struggle every day with the consequences of insidious brain injuries." As per recent reports, about 400,000 troops have been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury - in the past twenty years alone. From the al-Asad attack alone, a whopping 112 service members have been diagnosed with a TBI. "I didn't want [the letter] to be political," the frustrated father shared in an interview with CNN. "I didn't want it to be a jab at the President. I just want people to understand that TBI is serious business. It's very disruptive."



While the United States Defense Department claims they take the matter seriously, Trump's comments implied otherwise. Defense Secretary Mark Esper stated in January, "We take this issue very seriously. This is an injury we need to keep educating everybody about... It's a learning process for many of us." At the same news conference, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley explained, "It can become post-traumatic stress. It can become a wide variety of behavioral/health issues when you do damage to the brain." At present, the Pentagon is looking for "crucial new answers on rapid diagnosis, treatment, and protection from blast pressures."




Most of their effort is dedicated to testing small gauges that soldiers wear on their helmets, chests, and shoulders. These gauges measure the impact of a blast to help facilitate faster and more accurate diagnoses. Further to this, The Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs have put aside a total of $50 million for research on the intersections between combat concussions, dementia, Parkinson's disease, and the risk of suicide. In the meantime, committed soldiers like Larkin's son Ryan, are expected to continue their service with no recourse. His story, similar to those of others like him, is a moving example of why the federal government needs to take the issue more seriously.



"Ryan was a quiet guy. He was very smart," his father described. "He was always laughing. Little bit of a jokester at times. But very dedicated to being a SEAL. He loved being a SEAL. Loved his teammates. It was a tight group." Things went downhill when he completed back-to-back six-month tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. His personality began changing. Larkin stated, "He stopped smiling. His emotions became flat. He became more short-fused. Quick to anger, frustration. His predominant complaint was he couldn't sleep." Though Ryan was diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder, his complaints were that something was "wrong with his head." No one listened.



His father discovered his body after he died by suicide. It was only after his death that doctors discovered the TBI that lead to his death. Larkin explained, "They called us in and said, your son had an undiagnosed severe level of microscopic brain injury directly related to blast exposure, called interface astroglial scarring. It's estimated 85% or more of this blast pressure exposure occurs in the training environment." Now, his father wants to do something about it.  "We're on a mission now, on his behalf," he affirmed. "And that's to illuminate TBI, invisible wounds, and the nexus to suicide, and see if we can generate an urgent level of research that can help provide the answers as to what we're dealing with and hopefully guide us down the right path."



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