Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Legacy Of Joshua Omvig

from www.namguardianangel.org
by Chaplain Kathie

The story of Joshua Omvig turned out to be one of hope. While his family grieved for the tragic death of their son, they turned that grief into action. Joshua was like so many not taken care of by the country when they needed us. They wanted to make sure that no other family would have to feel their pain without fighting to change what was wrong. They did just that. The Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention Bill was signed into law. Senator Tom Coburn was the only holdout. He too issue with the gun rule that would stop PTSD veterans from getting gun permits.

Statistics show the suicide method of choice is firearms. The problem with this is that there are a lot of PTSD veterans on police forces and other jobs that require firearms. There is also the problem this rule would prevent many veterans from seeking help if they thought they would have to surrender their guns.

There was a time when I thought it made more sense to keep the rule in until a friend of mine pointed this out. He has a gun and he has PTSD. If this rule was in place when he was diagnosed, he wouldn't have taken the chance of giving up his gun. The paranoia factor played into this as well. When a veteran has PTSD, part of it is "patrolling the perimeter" in a nightly ritual. They are constantly on guard duty. Taking away their guns would have caused more harm than helped the suicidal veteran. If they don't have guns, they use other things to commit suicide. What it would reduce is using them in domestic violence. There have been many cases where guns have been used but there are other cases when the spouse was killed by other means. The answer is not to take guns away but to treat the veterans with the therapy and medications they need to cope with it.

Here is the story of Joshua Omvig and what his parent did to help others.

Joshua Omvig
12/22/2005 JOSHUA OMVIG 22 GRUNDY CENTER, IA GUNSHOT Rep. Boswell, a Vietnam veteran, last month proposed a new suicide-prevention program for veterans. The “Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act,” H.R. 5771, now has 77 sponsors in Congress. It would set up a VA program to screen and monitor veterans for suicide risk factors. Nearly one of every five returning Iraq veterans reported a mental-health problem, according to an Army study published in March. And nearly one in 10 was diagnosed with Post-tramatic Stress Disorder.

Joshua Omvig (1983 - 2005)

Josh was a Proud American, an American Hero and a member of the United States Army Reserve 339th MP Company based in Davenport, Iowa. At six foot three, the impressiveness of his jet black hair, dark brown, almost black, eyes and long black eye lashes were matched only by his devilish charm and wit. Josh was everyone's friend whether he knew you or not. There were no strangers when he was in the room. He made everyone feel apart of the whole, and being the "clown" of the class made sure entertainment was never lacking either.

To say Josh was the typical "Kid Next Door" sounds odd but he really was JUST A GOOD KID. His whole life he wanted to work in public service and stayed focused on that dream of being a Police Officer for as long as I can remember. He always kept his nose clean knowing it was going to someday be important to his career. He loved to participate in sports, hang out with his friends, play video games and spend time with his family.

As an adult, Josh was a PROUD member of the Grundy Center American Lutheran Church, the Grundy Center Volunteer Fire Department, and the Grundy Center Police Reserves.

He insisted on graduating early from high school after joining the reserves to get his career started. So excited about his future, he wanted to get into basic training as fast as he could....He had wanted to serve and protect his country, and it's citizens. His dream of becoming a Police Officer was nearly here. The Army Reserves was his ticket to achieving that dream.

......then came 911, The War Against Terror, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Iraq.

In November of 2004, Josh returned from an 11 month tour of duty in Iraq, fighting for his country and it's people in "Operation Iraqi Freedom."

While serving in Iraq, the conditions where unimaginable, and worse yet were the UNSPEAKABLE "jobs" and "duties" they had to do.

One truly can't understand unless they've been there, what these men and women face every single day. From the moment they set foot on foreign soil, they are in a combat zone every single second of every single day ...until they return home. Any moment could be their last moment... they know it... they have to... in order to survive.

The stories that come out of these war zones covered in the news are unimaginable to those of us safe in our homes. It's inconceivable, the damage that could be done to one's mind after seeing the mutilation an IED does to a human body, or what it would be like to retrieve the body parts of a friend to send home to their family for burial.

What must it be like to have to watch your back 24 hours a day, even while you sleep...to know any garbage bag on the side of the road could be a bomb...any child could be a decoy for an ambush....any woman who approaches you crying could be strapped with explosives...that giving a candy bar to a child could cost that child his arms as retrobution for accepting it.


Josh loved his country, and was HONORED to defend her and the freedoms of it's people. He knew why he had to do the things he and others did, he was just never able to recover from having seen and done them.

He came home to us from Iraq with PTSD (POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER) and was never the same Josh again.

Josh's "DEBRIEFING" consisted of ONLY 15 minutes of "Welcome Home, Got any Problems? No? Great.. well, Let us know...See Ya"
AND IT'S HAPPENING TO OTHERS: Read the article -
"Navy acts to improve mental health screening for sailors"


What they are doing (OR NOT DOING) is killing our troops!

We knew Josh was having a hard time, but not in ANY way to the extent it REALLY was. We surely didn't know it had a name, or that it was an epidemic with our American Heroes in and returning from Iraq.

We knew there was such a thing as PTSD, but it just never "clicked" that THIS was what was happening to our Josh!..Josh was the clown, the one with the smile, the one who made others feel better. He hid the magnitude this disorder had on him very well. He suffered in silence like MOST of our soldiers with PTSD are doing.

On Thurs. Dec. 22, 2005, our Josh took his life after leaving a note explaining his torment.

Through the course of Josh's viewing and funeral ( attended by an overflow crowd of over 500 ), his family was made aware there were others suffering from the same disorder, in silence, like Josh had...LOTS OF THEM

While sitting in the Emergency Room for ONE HOUR with their dead son's body, being asked and explained about ORGAN DONATION, the nurse got off the phone with University Hospital in Iowa City and told Josh's parents that despite Josh's request to have his organs donated, "OH, I'M SORRY... WE FORGOT THAT HE CAN'T DONATE ORGANS BECAUSE HE WAS IN THE MID EAST... HE HAS A VIRUS."

When asked "WHAT Virus?", they were 'put off' and never responded to.

When BEGGED by Josh's parents to TEST him to SEE if he had a VIRUS "just in case he COULD DONATE".. They just said, "WE WON'T CHECK THE BODIES, EVERYBODY FROM THE MID EAST HAS GOT IT" "..it's a blanket policy!"

Vets Step Up To Prevent Suicide

Toll Free Hot Line, Clinics Go Online

POSTED: 9:25 am CDT July 7, 2008

OMAHA, Neb. -- The Veterans Administration said it is taking new steps to help men and women who can't leave the battles behind.

It's a direct response to the number of soldiers suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and the number of suicides among America's veterans.

Iowa native Joshua Omvig was a soldier who served many months in Iraq. The battle never ended when he came home, his family said, and the 22-year-old took his own life. Omvig's parents said that the transition from war zone to home was too much. He didn't have enough time to decompress, and they said he suffered in silence.

Omvig's parents later discovered he had post-traumatic stress disorder, which they believe triggered by what he saw and experienced daily while at war.

Doctors said that coming home doesn't automatically shut off the images for veterans.

"The sheer terror of dying in situations no one in their rational mind could begin to explain," said Col. Richard Harper (Ret.).

Harper said he understands the personal fight Omvig and other veterans go through. He said that he suffers from PTSD, and as a decorated career military man, it wasn't easy to ask for help. He said it was too hard to admit weakness until he was overcome by depression and could no longer function at work.

"Very difficult to accept, because it wasn't who I was. It wasn't what I'd achieved," Harper said.

Since October, the Nebraska-Western Iowa Veteran Health Care System has diagnosed close to 5,000 veterans with PTSD. About 450 of those served in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Since January, there have been four veterans in the Nebraska VA system who committed suicide and eight have attempted to take their lives. Those are only the ones reported to the VA.

"It doesn't matter what the numbers are, even if we have one in a calendar year, that's one too many," said David Tuttle, a suicide prevention coordinator.

Now the local VA said it is doing a number of things to try and reach veterans who need help but may be afraid to ask. Last year, the VA established a suicide hot line. If a veteran calls in crisis, there's immediate help and follow-up care.
click link above for more

US official urges mental health changes

Randall Omvig testifies about his son Joshua's suicide during an appearance before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill in April 2007. Veterans' groups and families who have lost loved ones say not enough help is being provided by the Pentagon for troops struggling with mental health issues.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon's top health official said Thursday he wants to see better mental health assessments, stronger privacy protections and a "buddy system" to change the military's stigma against seeking help for anxiety and depression.
Speaking to Congress as the military rushes to improve its much-criticized mental health system, S. Ward Casscells, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, also acknowledged that the Army's touted plans to hire 25% additional mental health specialists may prove hard to fulfill for awhile because of problems in recruiting and retaining active-duty professionals.

"It's not easy to get people into the military," said Casscells, referring to plans by Army Surgeon Gen. Gail Pollock. "We cannot hire 200 Army psychiatrists, which Gen. Pollock wants to do, we can't do that overnight. So we need everyone to reach out and look out for service members."

"It might mean if your buddy in combat is staring off into space and not laughing anymore at the dumb jokes, maybe it's a sign they might need to go back to base, get three hot meals and to talk to someone confidentially," he added. "I don't expect we will have a perfect solution."

Casscells' comments came as the Pentagon and Congress are reviewing 95 recommendations made last month by a task force chaired by Navy Surgeon General Donald Arthur. Issuing an urgent warning, the panel found that more than one-third of troops and veterans currently suffer from problems such as traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder and urged stronger leadership, more money and a fundamental shift in treatment to focus on prevention and screening.

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