I am writing this to let everybody know what just happened to my dear friends Jessica & Latseen Benson. It would be a travesty that such aberrant behavior would go on unnoticed. I hope Jessica & Latseen don't mind that I tell y'all their story but, knowing them I'm certain they would appreciate it if just to let other Veterans know to beware of those who approach them with promises of large gifts.
Sgt Latseen Benson was hit by an IED on 13NOV2005 while on foot patrol with the Pukin' Buzzards near Mosul, Iraq. The blast tore off his left leg below the knee and his right leg nearly to his hip. Latseen lost his legs that day as well as part of who he was before the war. They stabilized him in the field and sent him to Germany for repairs after which he was sent to Walter Reed in DC... and we all know what was going on at Reed right about that time. Given the environment and his pure sense of determination and drive to be independent, Latseen pushed hard to recover and convinced his doctors to let him go home after only 8 short months.
During this entire time Jessica never left his side. She provided him with love and encouragement, kind words and a kick in the ass when he needed it. She chased off the paperwork gremlins and kept Latseen focused on the task of rehabilitation. She made sure that everything stayed on track and never once complained about herself. Jessica remains at Latseen's side because she loves him. They are good together. They will always be stronger together than either one of them individually.
In 2008 the Benson's were approached by Bay Area Builders Association (BABA) in Houston, Texas, a 501C3 organization benefiting U.S. War Wounded Veterans, with opportunities like fishing trips (such as the one I wrote about here back in October 2009) with the overall grand promise of a brand-new, custom-built ADA home free of charge. The Benson's worked with BABA at events such as the Pasadena Rodeo selling items & raffle tickets to raise money for BABA. They worked tirelessly and never complained to me about the long hours. They only spoke of how much fun they had just being together.
In December of 2009 BABA, in conjunction with a local country radio station, held a concert in Houston at which they announced to the world that Jessica and Latseen had been selected by BABA to receive that afore mentioned home. Though they were working towards that end and hoping for it, it was a surprise to the Benson's and it really showed on the pictures from the event (Latseen never smiles). BABA posted this along with pictures on their website. Latseen was now their new poster child.
Once at home and away from all the excitement Jessica & Latseen got to looking at the plans for their new home. Upon inspection it turns out that it was not the ADA accessible custom home they were promised but rather one of the small cookie-cutter homes in Victory Lakes. While a very nice neighborhood, the floor plan for the home left no room for wheelchair access. A custom home with over-sized hallways, living space and restrooms is necessary for Latseen to get around in his own home and they brought this to the attention of BABA, who then promised to update the plans with said amenities. The Benson's then called the builder and were told that there was no way to change the plans without changing the entire home. BABA then pulled those home plans and told the Benson's that they would pick an entirely different home for them.
Several weeks went by and the Benson's never heard back from BABA. Then, by third party, they heard the very disturbing news that BABA had pulled their gift and were no longer going to give the Benson's a home. Upon investigation Jessica found out that BABA was indeed defaulting on their promise because they said, "they only support stable families." Apparently, a personal and private matter with the Benson's relationship was now the cause of BABA's default! Now, I'm not going to elaborate on that issue because I believe it is, and should remain a personal and private issue between Jessica and Latseen. Furthermore, it is not the issue at hand and I believe BABA is simply using the issue to cloud the water. If Jessica or Latseen want to share that part of the story they can tell you about it in the comments below, but, I urge you to not focus on that because it is not the issue. The issue is that a 501C3 supposedly dedicated to providing needed homes for our Troops just pulled the carpet out from under a really, really great family who deserved and earned the home they were promised, period.
There is no such thing as a "stable" military family, however, if you want to talk about strong and devoted and committed and host of other such adjectives to describe the military family you'd be on the right path. Such audacity and hubris! To think that these folks, who only one of which served in the military, can stand there and say that they are passing judgement upon such a great family is beyond me.
BABA's next move was to have a "hearing" at the behest of Jessica and Latseen. Well, what do they do but schedule the hearing for a date when Latseen will be out of the State on a previous engagement and, and, one which Jessica had advised BABA of on previous occasion! BABA would not reschedule the meeting so Jessica was left to stand by herself in front of these vultures who had clearly already made their decision. Theresa and I went to the meeting and sat outside just to give what support we could to Jessica. When Jessica came out of that room in tears I was completely enraged! I wanted to go in there and just beat the living crap out of those smug bastards.
At the end of the meeting BABA had told Jessica that they would contact her in a "few days" to let them know their final decision. Shortly afterward BABA removed the pictures and article about the Benson's from their website. It seems Latseen was no longer good enough to be their poster child. More than a month later one of the BABA board members called Jessica only to say that he was checking up on them but when the conversation turned to ethics he stated that that was not the conversation they should be having and terminated the call. To this day no BABA representative has notified, telephonically or otherwise, the Benson's on their final decision.
This is just plain wrong. The Benson's are really great folks and War Heroes to boot. I think that BABA should be investigated and that they should lose their 501C3 status. I hate to say it. I hate to see an organization set up to assist our War Wounded go under, but, not this one. You just don't treat people the way they did the Benson's. You just don't run an organizaton by the seat of your pants, there are rules to govern that organization. That is partly why you have to apply for 501C3 status.
Oh, and here's the kicker for you... Latseen is an Alaskan Native American! Anybody remember "Manifest Destiny?" Here we have an aboriginal who, out of a love for his country joins our Military to defend all of ours' Freedom and to help those who cannot help themselves attain their Freedom and what reward does he get... he gets his ass blown up, then sent to Walter Reed, then has to fight the VA for what he is rightly entitled to and then, then this is how he is treated by an organization that is supposed to be helping!?! WTF!?!
I will be sending a copy of this to my Congressmen and Representatives. Hopefully you will read this and do the same. Perhaps you can drop BABA a little note and express your feeling to them as well (just click on the title of this entry to get to their website). Thank you.
To Jessica and Latseen, I love you guys. Thank you for serving our Country. It means something to me and, while that isn't much, I know there are others out there who appreciate you as well. Hang in there and we'll all get through this together... One big happy, if not stable, military family.