Miranda Briggs is the CEO and Founder of Fight the War Within Foundation
I don’t know who is on the other side reading this message right now. Wherever you come from, whatever your story is, regardless of your past- read this now and know that you matter.
Read it again, you matter.
I won’t tell you that whatever you are facing is easy. Hell, I won’t even tell you that figuring out your next steps will be. But I will tell you, with certainty, that there is light in every circumstance. The turning point is whenever you decide to make the decision to see it. We may have to bust out some sledgehammers and drills to dig, but I promise you that it is there somewhere. I also promise you that you are not alone in your journey. As much pain as you may find yourself in now, know that ending your life will not end that pain. Suicide only transfers your sufferings to those who love you the most. They will carry that with them until their last breaths.
Maybe, just for one second, the story of my family can spread a ray of hope to remind you that you are a fighter and that you can get through this. Your family and friends deserve to see you give this internal war a fight and you deserve to conquer what is within.
95,517. These are the Americans who lost their lives to suicide in 2018 and 2019 (CDC Suicide Fact Sheet). To me, this number isn’t just black ink typed on white paper, nor is it just information derived from annual studies on deaths. Each and every single number that is printed by the CDC in their annual reports was once a living, breathing person who lost an internal war. One of these warriors was my husband, Garrett.
I don’t know where to start with describing Garrett. On a pallet of colors, his spirit paints a whirlwind of combinations of reds and yellows. The warmth that radiates from his smile was contagious. Standing at 6’7”, his big red bushy beard, lifted Jeep Cherokee, and spicy cooking made anybody and everybody feel at home. I believe that for anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide- remembering them for their best days is one of the biggest things that you can do to honor them. The Garrett I just described is the one that I hold closest to my heart.
Serving in the Army from 2012-2016, Garrett deployed with the 1/75th Ranger Regiment to Afghanistan in 2013. Although combat and injuries were incurred within regiment, the biggest war that Garrett would face was the one at home. Even though I was a career EMT/Firefighter at that time, none of my medical training prepared me for how to best support Garrett through his battle. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just me who was unprepared. His command chose to look the other way time and time again when he needed support the most.
The transition home from the deployment caused difficulty in Garrett’s life. Insomnia from nightmares led him to finally seek care from the Army. Although he was showing classic symptoms of PTSD, he was not given a referral to mental health. Instead, he was prescribed sleeping medication and pushed out the same doors that he had entered to get help. I believe that this is what turned him to the bottom of a bottle to cope. With overwhelming emotions, drinking eventually led to a dependency and problems.
I cannot apologize for the decisions and actions made by Garrett during his darker days. There are no time machines that I can jump in to go back and stop his mistakes before they happened. But I can speak for Garrett’s heart and for his patriotism through his service to our country during a time of war. His struggle with sobriety is not an accurate definition of the person that he was- rather, it was a part of his life that impacted him deeply.
After getting out of the Army in 2016, Garrett’s transition of care to the VA was not an improvement. To the rest of the world, Garrett was finally trying to get help. We were all supportive and were so proud of his willingness to finally address his demons. On the inside though, he felt something completely different. He didn’t know how to ask for more help than what he was already receiving at the VA- care that was unfulfilling and unconcerned with the depth of his inner darkness.
On January 31, 2018, just 15 days after our daughter was born, Garrett ended his internal war at our home. He had been desperately waiting on mental health medication to arrive from the VA that had been delayed. An upcoming court date for his most recent DUI weighed heavily on his mind. No words could comfort his restlessness or assure him that he would get the help that he greatly needed and deserved. Our family looked to the VA for all of Garrett’s care and that was our biggest mistake. We paid a price that can’t be returned to us, now.
After his death, people around us talked in hushed whispers. Too many times, I overheard, “Well, maybe she was making his life miserable,” or “maybe having the baby was just too much stress on him.” The lack of compassion and outreach from many people who were once close in our lives was astounding.
Two years later, I now realize that after losing someone to suicide, everyone around struggles to understand. Many others even experience a grief and trauma from the loss within the surrounding community. Maybe the problem isn’t a lack of empathy- maybe it is the struggle to grasp the reality of the epidemic that suicide has become in our country, today.
After losing Garrett, an investigative side in me emerged to find answers on what happened. I ordered all of his medical records, hired the prestigious Parlatore Law Group (who represented NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerik and Navy Seal Veteran Eddie Gallagher), and read countless books, articles, and studies on suicide. In many ways, I became obsessed with feeling a need to find the reason why Garrett was gone. With time, I have found no solace between pages, for there is not a possible way for any of us to truly understand it. I pray none of you ever do.
On January 30, 2020, one day before the handover of Garrett to the United States Navy for his burial at sea aboard the USS Essex, The Parlatore Law Group formally submitted our letter of intent to sue to the Veterans Affairs Administration. This was submitted on grounds for Wrongful Death and Negligence in the care that Garrett received. From this, I pray that eyes will be opened in a broken system and that changes will be made to prevent any other veterans and their families from suffering the way that ours has.
With the guidance and support of our attorney, my Veterans United Foundation Scholarship, and academic advisors, I have changed my career and educational focus since losing Garrett. I hope to someday become a physician and to work for the VA as a Primary Care Provider. Deep down, I believe that this system can be repaired through compassionate and dedicated medical care to those who have served and sacrificed so much.
Along this path, my daughter and I have encountered so many incredible people and organizations who are blazing paths towards providing help to those suffering internal wars. Thanks to them, we have been able to better adjust to this new life. This journey has opened my eyes to the gray zones that lie within the vast resources available to those fighting internal wars. Thus, the idea for Fight the War Within Foundation was born.
Our mission is to help those fighting internal wars by connecting them, their families, and their friends to resources and by providing emergency grants when possible. We will accomplish this through strategic partnerships with like-minded organizations, soliciting donations, and organizing volunteers who are driven to make a difference. We are unique from other organizations because we do not discriminate our reach of help to anyone in need. Whether you are a veteran, first responder, or civilian, we believe that your life matters and we will be here to help guide you to resources that can help you best.
95,517 lost their lives to suicide between 2018-2019. If we can help one person see the light, then I know Garrett will see that his life will long outlive his last breath. We are here to ensure that those we have lost are not forgotten and that those here still fighting are supported.
I don’t know everything, but of some things I am certain. Two would be that pain is universal – but so is love.
Fight on, warrior. You aren’t in this alone.