County Executive’s Corner: A Hero Gone

By Rockland County Executive Ed Day

Rockland said goodbye to another hero this week as we buried a 28-year-old Army sergeant from Wesley Hills.

James Morrison graduated from Ramapo High School and had been a member of the Hillcrest Volunteer Fire Department.

Then he volunteered to serve his country. Sgt. Morrison had been deployed to Afghanistan three times. He was decorated for bravery and returned home without a scratch.

But, as we know, not all wounds are physical.

I’m the father of two sons who served in the military, one still on active duty, and I cannot imagine the pain Richard and Sharon Morrison felt as they said goodbye to their only son.

As we prepare to mark Veteran’s Day next week, let’s pause to think about the dangers the men and women of the military face. Both on and off the battlefield.

Rockland County has paid dearly for the freedoms we all enjoy.

Every death is a blow – a reminder of the sacrifices so many of our servicemen and women make for our nation.

The most recent war on terror has claimed eight Rockland lives. We have mourned Army Maj. Thomas Kennedy, who grew up in New City; Army Sgt. Edward H. Bolen, whose wife is from Blauvelt; Army Cpl. Manny Lopez of Haverstraw; Marine Cpl. Steven Vahaviolos of Airmont; Army Capt. Phillip Esposito of Pearl River; Army Spec. Justin Garcia of Valley Cottage; Navy seaman Gilbert Fontaine of Spring Valley; and Army Staff Sgt. Tatiana Khaghani Dees.

The dangers of the battlefield are well-known. Less well-known and less understood are the psychic scars that war leaves.

The family of Sgt. Morrison, who was on active duty in Fort Carson, Colorado, want his death to serve as an example of the dangers of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

“PTSD is real,” his father, Richard, said.

It is real.

The Veteran’s Administration estimates that as many as 20 percent of troops who served in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD.

Suicide is the deadliest consequence when the pain becomes too much to bear.

The Veteran’s Administration estimated that in 2014, an average of 20 veterans died from suicide each day.

The same year, 269 active-duty service members and 169 reserve and National Guard troops took their own lives, according to the Defense Department.

Here in Rockland County, we are fortunate to have the Rockland County Veterans Service Agency, which provides referrals for assistance. There is also a Veterans Affairs healthcare clinic in New City, which also offers psychological services.

A community group, Bridges, formerly the Rockland Independent Living Center, works with the Veteran Services Agency of Rockland County to implement the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer Support program.

That program provides support to veterans from veterans who understand the devastating effects of PTSD.

We’re doing what we can to reach out to members of our military to show them our appreciation and to provide them with the services and assistance they need.

But as we say goodbye to Sgt. James Morrison, we know, sadly, that sometimes it’s just not enough. Let us rededicate ourselves to providing our military members and veterans with the very best assistance possible.

We owe them nothing less.

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