by Robert Branco
[Ed. note: The following is the excerpted text from the address Robert Branco gave at this year’s Memorial Day observance in Tenants Harbor. Branco is a member of the Kinney-Melquist chapter of the American Legion.]
Following the American Civil War, the federal government began creating national cemeteries for the war veteran dead across the country. For the next 100 years Memorial Day celebrations were held honoring war veterans around the country. Now a national holiday, Memorial Day honors all the men and women veterans who have given their lives for the country in the wars in our history around the world. … In addition to giving their lives on these foreign battlefields, our men and women have had many life-threatening difficulties in their lives when they are back at home with family. Their memories of the loss of their brothers and sisters at arms alongside of them are horrific nightmares that never leave them.
Many of them also have been wounded in combat and have lost arms and legs due to explosive weapons. The modern creation of artificial prosthetic limbs has helped many of the combat veterans recover important parts of their life. Others have suffered post-traumatic stress when their close comrades have died next to them in battle from horrible wounds. …
… My niece Jessica, a long-time high school teacher married in 2005. Her husband Tony had been an Army combat medic in Iraq where he cared for those wounded and killed in battle. He and I had shared our military experience when we met. Three years ago, Tony was battling post-traumatic stress from his tours in combat and he and Jessica lived in San Jose, California with their two young children. Tony was trying to get help from the VA for his PTSD but apparently their counseling efforts weren’t working to help him control his stress …
…After all these many years of war that our American veterans have been through, post-traumatic stress is just being acknowledged as a serious mental health problem. Sadly, enough help hasn’t been given to veterans who have been in difficult combat situations and bear tragic memories.
On Memorial Day weekend in 2015, Tony was struggling with his thoughts at home, feeling bad. He had kept a rifle in their apartment, and suddenly was in bed with it greatly upset. My niece and her mother were trying to talk him down from what looked like a very suicidal condition. Finally, he took his life with the weapon. So tragic.
The memories I have of the tragedy are sad, but the real blessing is that Tony did not attack his family. He had always been loving and caring of his wife and children—even though he struggled with the terrible battle stress he suffered from his tours in Iraq. The many pictures of him with his young daughter Audrey and son Jason are full of many happy smiles. …
…So, what do we have to learn from this?
In 2014 7,388 veterans in our country took their own lives. While some VA facilities have made a difference to support our veterans in their needs, much more needs to be done across the country.
Since some of our family and friends have left us because of their tragic memories of the wars and veteran friends they have lost, we need to continue to support our veterans and send our messages to our government representatives about the need to provide real important psychological support for all of our veterans, young and old. The availability of this valuable life support needs to be highlighted in all the media, especially in televised documentaries and publicity in all means of communication.
The one blessing for my niece is that there was a lot of support from her friends and family after this tragedy. Recently, she received a special invitation for her to go to Denver, Colorado with her children for a special event gathering of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), a non-profit which offers compassionate care to all those grieving the loss of military loved ones.
This was so special for Jessica. Since 1994 this program has assisted more than 75,000 surviving families with retreats, regional seminars for adults and youth programs across the country. The caring support of TAPS has helped Jessica’s life become more positive with Audrey and Jason as they continue their lives together. These memories of our veterans in our families and friends are so important in our own lives.
One thing for sure is that our sincere support for them can really make a difference.