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Citrus Heights Marine veteran retells story of being injured in Iraq

Marine Corps veteran Jeff Landay points to signatures from well-wishers who signed a Marine Corps flag during his recovery. // M. Hazlip

By Mike Hazlip—
For Citrus Heights resident Jeff Landay, enlisting in the Marines was a way to serve his country, but the real battle began after he returned home.

Originally from Crescent City, Landay and his mother eventually settled in Citrus Heights. Following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, he enlisted with the Marine Corps at the age of 17.

After training, Landay was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines (3/5), where he learned he would be headed to Fallujah, Iraq, with the storied battalion also known as “Dark Horse.”

“That’s exciting, but at the same time, these guys don’t really play,” Landay said. “But you know, I loved every minute of it.”

On May 21, 2006, Landay was driving a military vehicle returning from a mission at night when he says he saw a raised area in the sand. Unable to stop the vehicle in time and potentially become a sitting target, Landay continued forward when the Improvised Explosive Device detonated.

The resulting explosion blew the vehicle more than 20 feet into the air, Landay would later learn from those behind his vehicle. The blast instantly killed one man in the vehicle, and severely wounded the others, including Landay. He would later learn the extent of his injuries included losing the entire left side of his skull along with other internal injuries.

After several life-saving surgeries, Landay was transported out of Iraq to Germany, then back to the United States, all the while in a coma.

“The last thing I remembered was going out on an early in the morning mission, but then the very next thing that I recalled was waking up in Maryland,” Landay recounts in his recently published book, “The Real War is Here.”

The recovery process was slow, as Landay re-learned how to speak. He said his frustration grew with his inability to communicate with friends and family who came to visit him in the hospital.

“It was wonderful to see them again,” he said. “But again, not realizing it took me probably two or three years to realize I was having that many problems.”

Eventually, Landay learned the full extent of the explosion and his injuries.

“It took that many years for people to actually get comfortable again to finally tell me what happened,” he said.

Landay learned he was in a coma for 32 days, something he describes as “not peaceful whatsoever.”

I was reliving the intense combat that I had been involved in and was having nightmares,” Landay writes.

He says he was thrashing around, and needed to be restrained to prevent him from unconsciously pulling out the tubes that were keeping him alive.

A doctor told Landay he may have physical and mental limitations because of the brain damage he sustained in the explosion. He started therapy and began taking a “plethora of different medications” for his pain, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and to help him sleep.

While he was progressing through his therapy, Landay learned of another battle he would fight with the Department of Defense. He says he received a Combat Related Special Compensation (CRSC) grade of only 10 percent disabled.

“That was probably one of the most frustrating things I’ve heard, ever,” Landay said. “I’ve seen little kids who, in boot camp, were claiming they had PTSD and were getting 40 percent.”

Landay rejected the initial assessment, eventually taking his fight all the way to Washington D.C. On first appeal, he again received a 10 percent disability grade, while on a second appeal he received a 30 percent grade.

Landay’s story was retold in a 2008 article by ABC News, when he was fighting the initial CRSC grades. The article said thirty percent “is the demarcation above which soldiers receive medical retirement with full benefits and below which they receive a separation payment without benefits.”

The long process took years of appeals, a waiting game Landay says he is very familiar with in the military. Finally, however, Landay received a call from then Defense Secretary Robert Gates approving a CRSC score of 83 percent disabled.

Today, Landay is furthering his education between interviews and speaking engagements. He says it took about seven years for him to be able to talk about his experience.

“I saw a therapist and the great thing about the therapist, she wasn’t expecting to respond back,” he says. “She just let me talk, and it’s one of the things I tell most vets. You find a therapist who is not trying to relate to who you’re talking to or tell you what’s wrong with you. Just let you chat for an hour.”

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