CHICAGO (CBS) — One shot in the head. After two tours in Iraq, it took only one bullet to end a proud Marine’s life and to break a mother’s heart.
Brandon Meyers of Plainfield, IL was the boy next door. He was a sweet and smart goofball who loved his family and spent days on end fixing up cars with his dad. Selfless by nature, Brandon gave generously to those around him. From the age of six, says his mother, Wendy Meyers, Brandon had a dream: to become a United States Marine.
After high school graduation, Brandon joined the U.S. Marine Corps. For him, Semper Fi was more than a motto. It was a solemn oath to serve and protect America. When training ended, Brandon immediately deployed to Iraq for his first tour, which lasted nine months. Following a brief return to the U.S., he deployed again. His second tour lasted 19 months.
When Brandon returned home in 2012 his mother saw immediately that something was amiss with her son. “You could see in his eyes a lot of hurt,” Wendy says, her own eyes welling up with tears. On a particularly grueling night, Wendy’s husband woke her up with a frantic shake. Their son was on the roof. Brandon told his father he was doing sniper duty.
“He never, he never left Iraq,” Wendy says.
Brandon was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a medical condition reported to afflict at least 400,000 American veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of those men and women with PTSD, only 50 percent seek treatment, and only half of these veterans receive what a RAND study considers “minimally adequate” treatment.
Brandon sought help for PTSD. He reached out to the local VA Hospital. The treatment plan, which included therapy sessions by teleconference, brought little relief. Wendy watched helplessly as her son sank into a quiet despair. “Scatter my dust in Iraq,” Brandon told his mom. “Because that’s where I died anyhow.”
On June 27, 2013, the day before Brandon’s beloved Blackhawks celebrated their Stanley Cup victory with a parade in downtown Chicago, Brandon disappeared. As more of Wendy’s texts to her son went unanswered, she began to cry, sensing that something was wrong. A few hours later, her worst fears were confirmed. With a shot to his head, Cpl. Brandon David Meyers, USMC, ended his life.
According to reports, suicide has become rampant, with some studies asserting that twenty-two Iraq and Afghanistan veterans commit suicide daily. VA Hospitals, plagued by scandal, dysfunction and inefficiency, are unable to stem the tide of veterans lives lost to suicide.
“When an average of 22 vets commit suicide every day we are failing them,” declares U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a veteran who lost both her legs and badly injured an arm in the Iraq war. “The V.A.’s mental health budget has grown by almost 40 per cent but the fact remains veterans are still committing suicide at unprecedented levels.”
With a gritty determination, Wendy Meyers is fighting to ensure that other veterans do not share her son’s tragic fate. Her organization, Bubba’s Dogs for Warriors, helps match veterans with service dogs. According to the organization’s fundraising page, “we’ve poured our broken hearts into research and found the highest degree of treatment success can come in the form of a constant companion — a dog, a service dog.”
“We have lost more men and women to suicide than the wars themselves from start to today,” Wendy tells CBS. “We can help. Every penny and dollar we give can save a life. They have done this for us. Let’s not forget.”
Producer: Wendy Widom
Editor: Rob Alvarez