Veterans in Pain founder Micaela Bensko and seven-year-old service dog Blue Belle. Dan Watson/The Signal

Veterans in Pain: a path to healing

Sgt. First Class Scott Adams was sitting in his Humvee, driving through the city of Bayji in northern Iraq on Jan. 26, 2007, when his whole life changed.

His sixth tour came to an abrupt end when two anti-tank mines laced with white phosphorus exploded directly beneath his seat.

“I ended going straight up into the turret ring where the .50 cal rotates,” Adams said. “I hit it right across my neck, and I fractured my C-5 vertebrate, and I shattered both my shoulders and my back.”

When fellow soldiers attempting to save Adams’s life from a fire that had erupted in the vehicle following the explosion ripped open the Humvee door, oxygen rushed in.

“I got lit up like a candle, fell out and did the fire dance until they put me out,” said Adams. “I’m 92% burn with 52% being third degree.”

In order to heal, Adams spent the next two years of his life in the Brooke Army Medical Center on Fort Sam Houston. Once discharged, the pain would never stop, and he would spend the next 10 years visiting his local Veterans Administration hospital, two to three days a week. He took up every type of therapy possible, from physical to acupuncture to swim, he said. He visited every doctor in every department.

That was until two months ago, when Veterans in Pain, a Santa Clarita Valley-based organization was able to find Adams, a Minnesota resident, a way to receive stem cell injections for free. He simply had to apply, and Veterans in Pain, a nonprofit started by Valencia resident Micaela Benkso, would take care of the rest.

“It was life-changing,” he said.

Veterans in Pain founder Micaela Bensko displays the organization’s material at her Valencia home. Dan Watson/The Signal

Veterans in Pain

Bensko has pain of her own. In 2011, an accident in her driveway resulted in her being confined to a wheelchair. She would go on to receive more than 20 spine procedures, spend 80-90% of her time over the next six years in bed, and commit herself to an exhaustive search for answers.

“I developed the clinically most painful conditions in the world, and they’re both called the ‘suicide disease,’” said Bensko. “On a scale of 1 to 10 on the (pain scale), they’re a 1,000…I knew one day I couldn’t go on anymore.”

On a longshot after a donation from a family friend and living with complex regional pain syndrome, Bensko was able to receive a stem cell transplant that she had called a life-altering procedure June 28, 2017.

“I haven’t had one spinal contraction since then, I was able to go back into physical therapy over the period of a year and learn to walk again to where I can walk short distances,” said Bensko. “So life is different, but when that happened to me, I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, here’s the science, and there are methodologies within the science that are proven.’”

Energized, and with a new lease on life, Bensko set out to give the gift she was given to others. And after helping her mother as vice president of Rebuilding America’s Warriors since 2007, providing free reconstructive surgery to troops returning to war, Bensko became increasingly aware of enduring pain conditions veterans undergo.

And Veterans in Pain was born.

Veterans in Pain founder Micaela Bensko talks about the organization at her Valencia home. Dan Watson/The Signal

The Work

Bensko said the work Veterans in Pain does takes on a two-pronged approach: helping veterans with chronic pain, and spreading awareness about chronic pain.

Bensko said that while her company works actively with the Veteran’s Administration to help those veterans with chronic pain, it sometimes does not have all the services a civilian physician can supply.

“Nobody comes to us unless they’ve been doing this for a long time trying to search for answers and they’ve shared their story 100 times … again and again and again,” said Benkso.

The founder of the organization says in order for someone to receive Veterans in Pain’s help, they must fill out an application online. If they qualify for Veterans in Pain’s services, they are then brought into the network.

Dennis Marcello, who served in the United States Army from 1983-87, and again from 1991-2007, dealt with chronic pain for over a decade.

“I had basically full body damage just from 20 years of military service,” said Marcello. “Both my knees were shot from running and (marching); my shoulders are shot, after I dislocated one and pulled the other one pretty bad.”

Marcello added he had a number of other injuries, as well. And then, after speaking with his friend, who had both his knees done with stem cell injections, Marcello was introduced to Veterans in Pain.

In July, he was flown out to the doctor’s office for free, provided a hotel room, given the injections and taken home. All the services were either provided or coordinated by Veterans in Pain and its network of providers.

“I had almost instantaneous (results), it was great,” said Marcello. He added that before going up and down stairs was a daily exercise in pain and discomfort. Marcello now says he can work at a construction site and go up and down stairs 50 to 60 times a day. “I truly hate to run because it’s so painful. Fifteen minutes after I got my stem shot, my knees felt so good my brain said, ‘Wow, you should go running.’”

Benkso said these results are possible for more and more veterans should the organization, and the miracles of stem cell technology be more widely known by both the public and state/federal legislators.

She hopes that Veterans in Pain can work to diminish some of the stigmas surrounding the science, and use her story to ensure it’s not just her story anymore.

“We’re hoping to be a portal for all information that can somehow be used to raise awareness to the solutions that have viability for veterans, that are responsible for veterans, and I’m solely focusing on veterans,” said Benkso. “But no matter if it happened during training, during service or after they left the service, they still dedicated their lives to our country, and they deserve the newest, most productive scientific concept in the world.

Bensko said Veterans in Pain has received dozens of applications since they first soft launched a year ago, and as of this publication, has completed treatment on 20 veterans nationwide.

To learn more about Veterans in Pain, visit their website at https://veteransinpain.org/. To apply as a veteran, visit https://veteransinpain.org/veteran-application. To apply as a physician to work with Veterans in Pain, visit https://veteransinpain.org/physician-application.

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