Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors — Honoring Military Families

Our 20-year-old grandson became a casualty of war, on Thanksgiving Day 2009, when he took his own life.   He suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and the horror of war had left its mark.  He had returned safely in October from his year-long deployment in Baghdad with the U.S. Army, and our family was overjoyed.   He took pride in his work, was a leader, and the unit clown who lifted the spirits of his unit when times were tough.  During President Obama’s visit to Baghdad in the summer of 2009, he was part of the detail.  He was buried with full military honors and his parents and brothers were treated with compassion.

How do military families deal with such an enormous tragedy, especially when it is suicide?   There is grief, anger and shock, but also an added concern about what people will think.  I serendipitously  saw a CNN  interview with a father who had lost his son to suicide in Baghdad five months before our loss.  I  e-mailed the father, who replied immediately.  He made some calls, and that evening someone contacted us  from the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors  (TAPS).  The director of the Suicide and Education and Outreach Programs talked with me and gave me her phone number over that holiday weekend.  I was impressed at how quickly TAPS responds to families.  At the time, my goal was to collect as much information as possible for our son and his family.

TAPS is a non-profit organization that provides grief support to families of fallen military personnel.   They work with families who have experienced loss in various ways– from combat, suicide, terrorism, homicide, negligence, accidents, and illness.  Their site is filled with important information.  TAPS mails a Survivor Care Package to each family.  They operate a telephone crisis intervention number 24/7,  have online connections with survivors, peer support, counseling, resources, publications, and videos.  Most important they offer Good Grief Camps for young survivors.    TAPS has a book,  A Kids Journey of Grief, TAPS Edition, which is made available to children dealing with grief.   We have received the informative  quarterly TAPS Magazine for over a year now and are impressed with the quality of the expert information, that include articles on surviving the holidays, helping children cope, keeping family rituals alive, adjusting to a new normal, forgiveness, and resilience through humor.

This Memorial Day Weekend, May 27-30, TAPS will sponsor its 17th Annual National Military Survivor Seminar & Good Grief Camp for Young Survivors in Washington, D.C.   Parents and children attend their own programs.  There will be leading professionals in the grief and trauma field together with survivors nationwide to share a weekend of understanding, hope, courage, and love.   Attendees meet other survivors and share the journey, and loved ones are honored on Memorial Day.   Workshops will include understanding complicated grief; coping with new family dynamics; special issues facing children, parents, siblings and significant others; and recognizing post traumatic stress in the family.  There is a nice return each year of people who have benefited in the past and come to support new attendees.  TAPS also sponsors regional  Good Grief Camps for children and Survival  Seminars  across the country.  It will be a weekend that will touch and strengthen  many hearts and spirits.   Attending means becoming a member of a larger family who can help you  move forward.

There are other organizations I want to mention that were of great help to us.  Military Families United  is another wonderful organization that quickly reached out to us.  Merrilee Carlson, Gold Star Mother and President, wrote me e-mails for weeks.  Known to everyone as “Shrek’s Mom,” we shared similar experiences, and her support was priceless.   They also sponsor Camp Desert Kids, a camp designed to help children understand military deployments. They deploy the children on the home front.  It is a fun camp with a unique concept that is well attended.

The U.S. Army has launched a campaign to reach soldiers at risk.   If you click on the link, you will see a moving video,  “I Will Never Quit on Life,” designed to promote health, risk reduction, and suicide prevention.   There also is a book available to soldiers, The Home Front, available through the Army Suicide Prevention Office.

In a future post, I will review books that will help children deal with grief and military deployments.

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About Patricia Tiltonhttp://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

6 thoughts on “Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors — Honoring Military Families

  1. Dear Patricia, I am so sorry you to hear of the loss of your grandson through suicide. It is true one cannot being to understand the grief, pain, anger and questions you would have. How amazing that the young father was able to assist you and what a part he has played in your life. I am also pleased to hear of this wonderful organisation (TAPS) that was there for you and your son and his family. Your “Shrek’s Mom” sounds like the right kind of person to have around, what a lovely friend to have.

    In NZ we also have many organisations that provide assistance 24/7, councelling, support, preventive discussions, and camps. (my mum and I are suicide survivours) I know one thing I learned is friendships are to be treasured, a kind word, a hug, means so much, and that we are never alone. That clip on “I will never Quit on Life” was very moving for me.

    (Sorry Pat, I had earlier written this out but after seeing the clip I lost it and so had to start again. )

    • Thank you Diane. People know our grandson was a casualty of war, but I really debated whether to mention suicide in a blog. It is a subject that I feel is very important to address, a reality of life, and a problem that is on the rise.

      In a Jan. 20, 2011 USA Today reported there are more U.S. Army active duty, Guard and Reserve suicides. There was a 24% increase in 2010 of soldiers both active and inactive duty. Among active duty Army soldiers in 2010, there were 156 suicides; 162 in 2009 . A May 11, 2011 Associated Press article, reported that 18 veterans a day commit suicide in the U.S.. The 9th U.S. Cuircuit Court of Appeals has ordered the Department of Veterans Affairs to dramatically overhaul its mental heath care system.

      Yes, I was fortunate to connect with the father who lost his son, because he was well-connected and has worked hard to get legislation passed to allow parents of active duty soldiers who’ve committed suicide, receive a letter from the President. I did a lot of work to support his effort.. He and his wife spent time with our son and daughter-in-law , which was helpful. However, my focus for this particular post was really to focus on the wonderful programs, like TAPS, that are available for families, and the Good Grief camps for kids!

      As a sideline, we’re discovering we’ve share many things in common. :)

  2. My heart goes out to you and your family — and to other families who have had to deal with this particularly difficult type of grief. What a blessing that there are groups such as TAPS to help people through what must be an excruciatingly painful time.

    The camps sound great — a good approach to take with kids.

    • I appreciate your comments. With time and grace we do heal. Since I reviewed the story of the Tainsh Family losing their son in combat, I wanted to balance it with another difficult grief among military families. Yes, TAPS is an exceptional program and I was grateful to be guided to them so that our son and his family could become involved. The Good Grief Camps are great! Again, thank you Beth.

  3. Pat,
    I am so glad that you were willing to address this painful subject on your blog. Having experienced this first-hand for yourself, especially in seeking to support your son and his surviving family, you understand the need to know what help is available to the survivors. PTSD diagnosed or not, needs to be talked about and understood, and posts like these help disseminate awareness of the dangers and information about the wonderful organizations like TAPS, Military Families united and others, working to support the unsung suffering, heroes. Thank you for bringing TAPS and their work, books and camps to our attention. I trust this Memorial Day weekend’s seminar and camp will be really powerful for those who attend.

    The film clip was very moving.

    • Joanna,
      I procrastinated over sharing something so personal, but realized that it would be validate in what I wanted to communicate. As I’ve said, it is a serious problem in the U.S. Army and one that is being addressed. Too many soldiers are falling through the cracks and not being diagnosed upon return. And, after workig for the military, I know the concern soldiers have about seeking mental health care. I hope this is changing. Don’t know how serious a problem it is in France and Europe. My goal was to make military families aware of the help that is available. Many go a year or so before learning about TAPS and Military Families United. This weekend TAPS program promises to be a very good. I’m glad you and Diane enjoyed the video. I thought the Army did a good job.

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