Ben Richards is, by any definition of the word, a hero.
Ben is selfless, dedicated, and talented, but war did not treat him well.
A combat veteran in Iraq, he was profiled in The New York Times on the trials of dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. He was also featured in a 60 Minutes story on CBS on the challenge of dealing with the invisible wounds of war.
After Iraq, Ben was going to teach history at the United States Military Academy at West Point. But, due to the extensive nature of his injuries, not only could he not teach, but he had to retire due to his disabilities.
Before he left the service, Ben agreed to do an interview for the documentary Veteran Nation, a film about how the nation has treated, and should treat, its veterans. He wanted to make the point that despite his injuries, this time in the service was among the proudest moments of his life—he had the honor to serve with those who volunteered their lives for America.
Recently, Ben returned to West Point for a reunion of the history department faculty. The transformation from the time he left the service is remarkable.
After undergoing a number of cutting-edge therapies (much of it provided through private philanthropy), Ben has made an unprecedented and remarkable recovery. His brain function has so improved that he is thinking about going back to graduate school and completing his Ph.D. He is no longer taking any drugs to manage his pain.
He is off steroids, and now slimmer and healthier-looking today than when he wore his uniform.
Ben is back.
His recovery is a remarkable testament to his determination and persistence, to the unrelenting desire to be a loving husband and a good father and continue to find ways to serve the nation he loves.
But even if Ben had not fought as hard for his future and his family as he did for his country, he would have no regrets.
Ben was always the first to say he wanted to be treated as a veteran, not a victim.
Our veterans sometimes need a hand up. They aren’t looking for a handout.
They want to and deserve to be treated as individuals—not as a class or as statistics.
They serve because it was their duty to serve.
You can thank them. But never pity. Never put them on a pedestal, either.
Ben’s story is Ben’s story. Every veteran has his or her own. Recognizing each and every one of them and their families as individuals is the best place to start for serving those who served.