by Ken Smith
I recently was invited by a good friend who lives in the Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts to participate in a panel discussion about PTSD and TBI . This discussion was to be held after a “reading” of a new play called “Make sure it’s me” written by playwright “Kate Wenner” of Southfield Ma. The play tells the story of TBI from a few different perspectives but leaves those who have seen it with a better understanding of the complexities of TBI, the way it effects families and especially wives. I wasn’t there to critique the play, which I thought was very good by the way, but to participate on a panel discussion about PTSD, TBI and where as a nation we have fallen down in the after care and subsequent treatment of the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who have suffered with TBI.
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a complex injury with a broad spectrum of symptoms and disabilities. The impact on veterans, so graphically portrayed in this play and especially to the caregivers left to pick up the pieces of these broken lives can be devastating. The purpose of this play was to educate and empower caregivers and survivors of traumatic brain injuries and to help the general American public understand, in a “visceral” way, the impact that this injury has on our military.
I thought that the director of the play “Jim Frangione” did a super job working with a group of amateur actors (minus the lead role of the doctor and another actor who portrayed a “Lt. Col” from the Pentagon). These two roles appeared to me to be either “semi-professional” or professional actors and they added much to the performance. Even the amateurs , who gave their all, captured a good part of what I think the playwright was attempting to deliver. Most Americans are somewhat distant from the effects of Trumatic Brain Injury. We know, by watching NFL football, that some of our favorite quaterbacks are not playing a game this week, due to the “concussioin” that the player received the week before, but we as a nation are ignorant of the brain injuries our veterans have endured.
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Warren Lockette, chief medical officer of Tri-care insurance, the military insurance used by veterans with TBI, on CBS news said, “Tri-care does not cover most “cognitive care” calling it “Not supported by reliable scientific evidence”. What the hell is wrong with this guy? The young marine you see in the attached youtube video is proof that “cognitive care” does work. This is part of the “Great Lie” that the DOD and the VA are perpertraing on our veterans with TBI.
In the play “Make sure its me”, a reference by one of the actors speaking to his mother as he is heading off to war, he says to his mother, “if I come home in a body bag, make sure its me”, there is a gripping scene by a doctor, attempting to give cognitive care to a select few veterans under a DOD grant, where she says “TBI is the “Agent Orange” of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For twenty years, the goverment denied any responsibiliy to those Vietnam veterans afflicted with cancers and other diseases from Agent Orange and they are doing the exact same thing to vets with TBI who served in OIF-OEF.
Research shows over 300,000 veterans are suffering with TBI. When are we as a nation going to “Wake up” and demand better treatment for these Americans?
In the panel discussion, I was with the playwright, Kate Wenner, Anne O’Dwyer, associate professor of psychology and academic dean of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, and an un-named VA counselor who works treating vets with PTSD. I have left her un-named as I think the VA would arrange for a big “Bitch-slap” for attempting to lead any credence to the argument that TBI is underfunded and under cared for in most VA facilities.
After the panel discussion, I met with an Iraqi veteran in attendance who said he was part of four (4) different IED explosions and now is experiencing headaches. Is it me? Is it that obvious to me that when your brain is jumbled by four different IED’s, and your now experiencing headaches that you should be “service connected” disabled? I would like the readers to send this article along to as many as congressional contacts as possible, in an attempt to get some additional noise to those who can make a difference and maybe, just maybe, the Veterans Affairs committee will conduct a “sub committee” hearing on this outrage.
Thank you Kate, your play is helping.
For more than twenty-five years Ken Smith has been a leading advocate for veterans. A combat Vietnam veteran, Ken served during 1971-72 as a paramedic and an infantry squad leader with Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry, in the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division. After his discharge, Ken continued his work as a paramedic in New England. On the streets of Boston he encountered growing numbers of homeless Vietnam veterans, and he became determined to both assist them and draw attention to their plight.
In 1989, Ken founded the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans, located in a former VA hospital at 17 Court Street in downtown Boston. One of the first facilities designed for homeless veterans and now a national model, the shelter has served over 35,000 of America’s veterans who, for whatever reason, find themselves living on the streets.
In 1992 Ken was awarded Point of Light #142 by President George H. W. Bush, and later that same year received the AMVETS Silver Helmet Award, considered the “Oscar” for American veterans. As one of America’s foremost veterans service organizations, AMVETS (or American Veterans) has a proud history of assisting veterans and sponsoring numerous programs that serve our country and its citizens. Ken was awarded this honor along with Peter Coors, with whom he still maintains a personal friendship.
Over the years Ken has appeared on many national media programs including Good Morning America, Prime Time Live, ABC News, CBS News, Larry King Live, CNN, 60 Minutes, and The Geraldo Show. He has been quoted in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, and numerous international newspapers, magazines, and websites. In 1992, Ken had the distinction of addressing both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions as a keynote speaker on the subject of veterans.
Ken recently left his last assignment with the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation, where he was the chief technology architect of the Veteran’s Vocational Technical Institute, Purple Heart Car Donation program, Purple Heart Call Center, Purple Heart Radio, Purple Heart Tech Support, Purple Heart Services, and over thirty new Purple Heart websites. Ken Smith provided the vision and has overseen the implementation of innovative, virtual, work-at-home training programs for veterans with combat disabilities. Ken has designed, upgraded, and supervised the integration and installation of Purple Heart Service Foundations computer and telephony systems, upgrading features from legacy POTS phones to SIP-trunked communications systems including establishing new VPN networks for teams of remote virtual employees.
An adventure sports enthusiast, Ken enjoys extreme skiing, competitive sailing, flying, and travel. He has traveled extensively worldwide, delivering his positive message to the veterans of other countries that a paraplegic veteran of the United States suffers the same as a paraplegic veteran of India; that an amputee veteran of Nepal suffers as much as an amputee veteran of France. Ken’s mentor was Harold Russell, the two-time Academy Award winner who starred in the 1946 film Best Years of Our Lives. A World War II veteran, on D-Day, June 6th, 1944, Harold lost both of his hands. This ghastly misfortune did not stop him, and he went on to become the chairman of the President’s Committee for People with Disabilities. For over fifty years he served US presidents from Truman to Clinton. Ken was humbled and grateful when Harold agreed to serve as the best man at Ken’s wedding.
Ken has been instrumental in the planning stages for the Veterans Workshop, a new nationwide veterans’ advocacy group building a new “Veterans Hotline, and the development of special programs for those who have lost their sight or their hearing, or who have suffered spinal cord injury, as a result of their military experience. The Veterans Workshop provides a forum where new technology and advancements in the fields of prosthetic and orthotic solutions, many designed by Ken, are shared along with virtual training and employment programs.
A 1970 graduate of De La Salle Academy in Newport, Rhode Island, for the past twenty-five years Ken has continued his education with extensive college courses in computer technology and related social service fields. He resides in his native state of Rhode Island with his wife and children.