The parents of an Army National Guard soldier who died by suicide last year have organized a two-city mental health and brain injury event they hope eventually will spread nationwide.
Operation Engage America, scheduled for Saturday in San Diego and Des Moines, Iowa, seeks to increase understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury and provide resources for affected families.
Dr. Howard and Jean Somers organized the event in reaction to the death of their son, former Sgt. Daniel Somers, who died June 10, 2013, after falling through cracks in the antiquated — and now known to be rigged — appointment system at the Phoenix VA Medical Center in Arizona.
Somers had sought treatment for post-traumatic stress and struggled with what now is referred to as “moral injury” — the overbearing guilt, sorrow and anger some troops feel after participating in, witnessing or failing to prevent acts that conflict with their own moral beliefs while serving in combat.
He left behind a suicide note that subsequently went viral after it was posted online.
“Too trapped in a war to be at peace, too damaged to be at war. ... Not only am I better off dead, but the world is better without me in it,” Daniel Somers wrote.
Since his death, his parents have made improving VA mental health care their life’s work. In addition to working with VA officials, members of Congress and veterans’ groups to improve mental health services for former troops, they have kick-started Operation Engage America, which they hope will bring together the community of health facilities, government bodies and volunteer organizations that work with troubled veterans.
“There is so much in our culture and our laws in this country that really work against mental health treatment. And there are thousands of volunteer organizations to help service members. But until our son needed help, we weren’t aware of the barriers we faced as parents and we now are just scratching the surface in figuring out what help there is,” Howard Somers said.
Lawmakers, VA health officials, veterans’ service organizations, volunteer groups and families will meet tomorrow at American Legion Post 731 in San Diego and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9662 in Des Moines.
For more information, check out Operation Engage America’s web site.
“We really, really need to work together, to get veterans to the help they need,” Howard Somers said.