LULAC ANALYSIS: THE WREATH-LAYING CEREMONY AT ARLINGTON CEMETERY FOR BRANDON CASERTA ACKNOWLEDGES THE IMPORTANCE OF MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES IN OUR MILITARY
Nation's Oldest and Largest Latino Civil Rights Organization Salutes Historic Achievement of THE BRANDON ACT, That Will Save Service Members' Lives
October 24, 2023
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Washington, D.C. - Patrick and Teri Caserta walked up to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Ceremony Monday and placed a wreath commemorating the sacrifice of their son, Brandon Caserta. Brandon Caserta was a 21-year-old naval squadron flight electrician who had been chronically bullied and abused by a toxic command that denied his requests for mental health services. THE BRANDON ACT now provides new hope for service men and women during a mental health crisis or even before when they may be contemplating self-harm because of factors they have not shared with anyone.
"The honor bestowed at Arlington Cemetery upon Brandon Caserta and his gold star parents, Teri and Patrick, signals a historic moment in our country," says Roman Palomares, LULAC military and veterans committee chair. "LULAC shares with our nation's military leaders this momentous act of coming together to acknowledge a great loss but also a great victory. We can now move forward as one to ensure the safety of our brave men and women in uniform and, in turn, our nation's defense readiness. This is our duty and commitment today and for future generations."
Present at the wreath-laying ceremony were many elected and military dignitaries, including Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), a key Senate Armed Services Committee member. He is one of the original co-sponsors of THE BRANDON ACT that helped lead its bipartisan passage in Congress in 2021. In attendance to escort the Casertas in the wreath-laying ceremony was Robert D. Hogue, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower & Reserve Affairs. Also in the escort party was Mr. Gilbert Cisneros, immediate past Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, now a congressional candidate from California. Rafaela Schwan represented LULAC as Chief Operating Officer.
"This remembrance of our son's courage and sacrifice lifts our hopes for the future," says Teri Caserta, president of the Brandon Caserta Foundation. "Nearly every day since his passing, we are in touch with military members and their families needing help with a mental health crisis. They don't know what to do or where to go without suffering consequences to their careers but are afraid that doing nothing will only lead to a worse outcome. Standing before the Tomb of the Unknown was a bittersweet experience because, as a mom, I miss Brandon dearly. Yet, I now feel empowered to do even more in his name. THE BRANDON ACT is the help he didn't get, which will benefit thousands of other service members like him. We will continue speaking loudly and boldly about mental health in our military and work with every branch to ensure the law is enforced at every level."
"THE BRANDON ACT is now the law of the land in our military and should be vigorously enforced," says Patrick Caserta, co-author of the legislation signed by President Biden in December 2021. "From JROTC programs to the Veterans Administration, and at every step and level of military service in between, we can and must teach THE BRANDON ACT as a way to save lives. There is no shame in asking for help during a mental health crisis, and our son's moment of decision now makes it possible to get that help without barriers or reprisal. We must now focus on informing everyone we can about THE BRANDON ACT and be willing to defend mental health care access as a right. Doing so will only make our nation's defense stronger and more resilient. Teri and I are prepared to devote the rest of our working lives to this worthwhile mission."
LULAC and the Brandon Caserta Foundation are in talks with every military service branch, exploring ways to collaborate in community education outreach that builds renewed trust in military service to help increase military recruitment for service and career pathways. Our shared commitment is to ensure that the service members who dedicate their lives to the protection of our nation have access to the mental health care they need without fear, ensuring that no more lives are lost in silence.