Spanberger, Gonzalez work to raise awareness of veteran suicides
Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-07) and Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH-16) this week introduced a bipartisan resolution to establish a nationwide “Purple Star Families Week” and honor the sacrifice of families who have lost a loved one to veteran suicide.
Over the last 10 years, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that more than 20 U.S. veterans have died by suicide each day. Between 2005 and 2017, more veterans died by suicide than the total number of U.S. troops killed in the wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq combined.
The bipartisan resolution introduced by Spanberger and Gonzalez would designate Sept. 19-25, 2021 as “Purple Star Families Week” to raise awareness about this continued, alarming trend — and to bring attention to the sacrifices of the families of veterans who have died by suicide.
This legislation was introduced in the last Congress by former congressman Denver Riggleman (R-VA-05).
“Veteran deaths by suicide are the invisible costs and wounds of war — and the families of these veterans are frequently left to grieve these deaths alone and in the shadows. These Purple Star families have lost so much. Not only have they lost a loved one, but often they feel that they have lost their deep connection with the larger veteran community,” Spanberger said.
“By raising awareness through a Purple Star Families Week, we can begin the process of eliminating the stigma, celebrating the service of our nation’s veterans, and making sure their families have the support, resources, and benefits they deserve. These deaths are more than statistics — they are personal, tragic stories for thousands of American families, and Congress should step up to recognize and honor their sacrifice. I appreciate former Representative Denver Riggleman’s work on this important priority, and I am proud to continue the work of raising awareness and ensuring support,” Spanberger said.
“Our veterans and their families have made enormous sacrifices for our country,” Gonzalez said. “This resolution honors our Purple Star Families, those families of servicemembers who tragically have taken their own life due to mental health issues. These families deserve our respect and support. I am pleased to introduce this bipartisan resolution with my colleague, Rep. Spanberger, commemorating these families by designating an annual Purple Star Families Week every September. In Congress, I will continue to be a vocal advocate for improving access to mental health services for our nation’s veterans.”
“When we lose one of our warriors to these invisible wounds of war, I can’t help but think of the grief and trauma that their family experiences,” said Capt. Bob Abbott, U.S. Air Force Veteran and Founder, Coming Home Well — a Virginia-based non-profit focused on educating civilians about the challenges facing America’s veterans and their families. “That grief is compounded since they have not only lost a loved one, but they have also lost their tether to the military and veteran communities.
“It is my hope that through recognizing these Purple Star families that are left behind, we can show our appreciation for everything they’ve sacrificed during their hero’s service and welcome them back to the community they miss so much with open arms,” Abbott said.
“As a military spouse, I didn’t just gain a husband, I gained an entirely new kind of family in my Army community,” said Hillary Perez, Surviving Spouse of SSG Luis O. Perez, U.S. Army Veteran. “This community became my support system through all the ups and downs that come with the military lifestyle. When I lost my husband, the grief I experienced was soul crushing. The community that I had relied on during his active duty years was distant, as he was a veteran of two years at the time of his death, and my connection to them was not what it had once been. I needed my community more than ever. The community that understood what life is like for a service member who bares the invisible wounds of war and how deeply their loss is felt.
“My hope is that by recognizing these Purple Star families, they will once again feel the strength and support of their community during one of the most devastating times in their lives. They will know they are not alone and they will be surrounded by their community who understands and appreciates everything that they have sacrificed. This is the first step towards providing the recognition and support that is so needed for these survivors,” Perez said.
Click here to read the full resolution.