On a Sunday morning of 2017, Ryan Larkin, a Navy SEAL with four combat deployments under his belt, committed suicide. He was just 29 years old.
He was haunted by a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) that was caused by repeated exposure to concussive blows and explosions. But the Navy and the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) thought he was crazy.
His father, Frank J Larkin, also a former Navy SEAL and the 40th United States Senate Sergeant at Arms, is now fighting to raise awareness about the multiple facets of brain injuries that can lead to behavior change, other medical problems, or even suicide.
Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Ryan Larkin had completed four combat deployments as a Navy SEAL to Afghanistan and Iraq. He had completed the Special Operations Combat Medic (SOCM) course and the Navy SEAL Sniper course; he was also a qualified breacher.
After coming home from his third deployment, the Navy docs diagnosed him with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and referred him to a variety of programs. The common denominator between the different programs, some of which were helpful, according to his father, was the medication. Throughout the duration of his two-year treatment, the doctors prescribed him over 40 different medications. And yet he didn’t seem to get any better. In fact, they made him worse.
After he was honorably discharged from the Navy in 2016, he was referred to a Veteran Affairs (VA) hospital. But nothing improved. He would say to his father that “something is wrong with my head. I don’t know what it is. But they keep telling me I’m nuts. I’m crazy.”
It was only after his death that the doctors realized that the combat-hardened SEAL had a microscopic level of severe brain injury. It was only when his brain was studied in the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center that the doctors found out the microscopic tears on his brains that MRIs hadn’t previously detected.
Following President Trump’s statements about TBIs after Iran’s missile attack on U.S. bases in Iraq, Mr Frank Larkin penned a letter to the President, explaining the hidden aspects of the problem.
“Mr. President,” he said in the letter, “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 Frank Larkin also disclosed that his son suffered from acute headaches on a daily basis. What is probably the worst, is that his son couldn’t understand why he was suffering.
This is a common trait in warfighters and veterans. A small dose of “man up” or “soldier on” is all you need, right? It’s hard for most men to acknowledge weakness; it’s even harder for warfighters who deal with high-stress scenarios on a nearly daily basis to admit that they aren’t up to the standard because of something they can’t control. Such behavior only leads to a dark place.