We are the parents of CA Army National Guardsman SGT Daniel Somers who returned to civilian life from the Iraq war as so many of our warriors do, suffering from invisible wounds. For Daniel it was not only Post Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury, but also Gulf War Syndrome. His transition to civilian life ended June 10, 2013 when he took his own life, unable to cope any longer with multi-system health issues. We have made it our mission to address the multiple barriers that kept Daniel from receiving the proper treatment he so desperately needed. In that process we hope to ensure that no other veteran or family suffers as ours has.
As parents of a married Veteran, we had no idea how to help Daniel get the care that he so desperately needed. We thought that the VA and his doctors were helping him. We also had no idea where WE could go for answers on how to talk with him about his many medical and transition issues. After Daniel's death, we became Veteran advocates and discovered a multitude of organizations, mostly non-profits, that were in our own local community. Many of them are small with limited geographic impact and funding. We began to think - what if we could bring all of these organizations together in one place, even if just for one day? That was the beginning of our resource fair idea.
We were contacted by parents Lisa and Jeff Naslund of Iowa who lost their son, Dillion, to suicide exactly six months to the day before Daniel took his life. Dillion, a proud member of the Iowa National Guard's, 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division, also struggled with Post Traumatic Stress issues. They listened to our resource fair idea and asked if they could organize one in Iowa. Together, we founded Operation Engage America. The name itself defines our mission: to engage all Americans with our Veteran and to engage Veterans with local resources across America.
Since 1973, there has been no military draft. The post-9/11 conflicts have been fought exclusively by a professional military and enlisted volunteers, unlike other U.S. wars waged in the past century. During this decade of sustained warfare, only about 0.5% of the American public has been on active duty at any given time. (At the height of World War II, the comparable figure was nearly 9%.) As a result of the relatively small size of the modern military, most of those who served during the past decade were deployed more than once, and 60% were deployed to a combat zone.
Our Operation Engage America resource events, while focusing on Post Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury, offer a variety of information on all aspects of Veteran medical and transition issues. The events are open to the public. We highly encourage attendance by family and friends of Veterans, not only to become familiar with the many local resources available, but also to find an organization to engage with, either by volunteering or financial support.
Front: Jean Somers and Lisa Naslund; Back: Howard Somers and Jeff Naslund