Major General Mark Graham and his wife are aware of the losses – and the high cost of war.
He and his wife Carolyn lost not one but two sons a year apart, while General Graham served as Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Army. Their family story was told in “The Invisible Front: Loss and Love in the Era of Endless War.”
“The Army told Jeffrey he did not have to go because of the tragedy of experiencing our son Kevin. And Jeff looked me in the eye and said, ‘Dad, I have to go,'” General Graham, who spent 35 years in the army said. He understood his son’s wishes.
“Eight months later,” Graham said, “Jeff was killed by an IED while on foot patrolling outside Fallujah, Iraq.”
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Their son Kevin was a ROTC army cadet studying to become an Army doctor when depression caused him to take his own life. He stopped taking his medication due to the stigma associated with mental health issues and died of suicide. His brother Jeffrey was on his way to Fort Riley, Kansas to join the 1st Infantry Division to deploy to Iraq.
“So our sons died in various battles. Kevin died in the battle for the mind, and Jeffrey died in the battle against an enemy in a distant land,” Graham said.
To cope with the loss, Graham started a national call center at Rutgers University called Vets4Warriors, which allows service members to talk to a veteran within 30 seconds. He says he has seen an increase in calls since the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. The Department of Veterans Affairs saw 30% more calls to its suicide hotline (1-800-273-8255 Press 1) from 15-31. August, when the US military ended a 20-year presence in the Asian nation.
“We saw it. We absolutely did,” Graham told a live audience of military cadets at the U.S. Navy Memorial during the recording of “The Wounded Warrior Experience.”
“Loneliness is one of the main reasons we get calls, and we’re always got calls. And loneliness has just grown and grown, exacerbated by the pandemic. And so when the Afghanistan withdrawal hit, it really affected because they were not close to each other. “
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Allen Levi Simmons served with the U.S. Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“So there was a gun in my hand, pillows on my bed, the Bible on my bedside table. The paranoia tip went through the hallway of my home,” Simmons said. “I had the gun in my mouth, the finger on the trigger. I had the pills on my bed and I was tired of feeling like someone was trying to kill me.”
Simmons was at an explosive ordnance disposal company in Marjah, Afghanistan, when he was blown up, hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
“My ears sounded like a smoke detector,” Simmons said. “And little did I know that the rest of my life would be changed.”
He suffers from PTSD after his traumatic brain injury but eventually asked for help. Writing poems saved him.
“I had thoughts in my head. I had panic attacks. I wanted to blow a hole through my head. So it’s part of my poem because I cultivate therapy through poetry, and that’s how I got through my post-traumatic stress.
Last year, he received his bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and has his own podcast. His book is called “Can I Speak?”
Simmons described the anguish he felt when he saw the Afghan war end.
“That withdrawal sucked,” Simmons told audiences hosted by the American Veterans Center. “It was like many lives, a lot of blood, a lot of fathers and mothers have passed away. And what are we going to show for that?”
It took 10 years for Will Weatherford, a member of West Virginia’s Army National Guard, to ask for help.
“I was struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said. “But I had a hard time admitting it to myself.”
He was on the verge of a divorce from his wife until he enlisted the help of the coalition to support America’s Heroes.
“I thought when he came back everything would be normal again. Things would be as they were, but they were not,” his wife Megan McDonough recalled. “I was determined to find some resources and not just give up. It’s not just the veterans who suffer many times. There’s a big impact on families and for marriages.”
He and his wife Megan currently live on a small working farm in rural West Virginia, where they breed a menagerie of animals, such as alpacas and goats.
These stories of survival and resilience will appear in an hour-long special called “The Wounded Warrior Experience,” presented by the American Veterans Center and the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation. The show airs on Fox Business Channel at 16 ET Saturday, November 20th.
Veterans Crisis Line is available for free, confidential support 24/7 by calling 1-800-273-8255 and pressing 1 or texting 838-255.