Hope After Tragedy: The Living Legacy of Service

with Bonnie Carroll of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS)

More than 15,000 U.S. service members have lost their lives since 2006, significantly impacting surviving families and loved ones.

Bonnie Carroll, Founder and President of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), joins host Paul Lisnek to discuss a nationwide peer support network for bereaved military families — carrying forth the living legacies of service and sacrifice.

Posted on:

Nov 04, 2019

Hosted by: Paul Lisnek
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Lisnek: Tragic death and loss can be an unfortunate reality of military life. Look, loss is never easy. For each military loss, there are on average 10 people who are profoundly impacted. These include parents, children, spouses, siblings, and other family members. Hi. Welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Paul Lisnek. Joining me to discuss the living legacies of service and sacrifice is Bonnie Carroll. She's the founder and president of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, otherwise known as TAPS. Bonnie, it's good to see you.

Carroll: Thank you so much.

Lisnek: I so respect the work that you do, and you have an important reason for doing it, because although you started this work in 1994, your personal experience takes us back to 1992.

Carroll: Yes. My husband, Brigadier General Tom Carroll, was killed in an Army plane crash with seven other soldiers onboard. You know, I was an Air Force Reserve officer myself, and I thought with the training I had in the military and my work in the civilian world with nonprofits that supported families who had lost loved ones in traumatic ways, you know I thought, "Well, I'll be able to cope. I'll be able to get through this. I'll help the other families." And that little fantasy lasted about 30 seconds, and life just stopped.

Lisnek: And so when you created TAPS, which had to be a way of comfort, of catharsis for you, talk to me about the kinds of services today that are provided to these military families survivors.

Carroll: Yes, well, you know, I spent about two years just trying to find my own way forward. And it wasn't until I connected with the other widows that lost their husbands on that day that I really found the comfort and the understanding. And that was the magic. It was peer support, connecting with others who were going through the same journey. So TAPS was created to be a national peer support network, because it didn't exist in this country.

Lisnek: And today, we think of you losing your husband, Tom, which I thank you and your husband for your service -- There are actually four major ways in which family members do lose somebody in the service, and those kinds of accidents are part of it. But actually, that's only about 20%. How else are we losing our service members?

Carroll: Well, right now, tragically, we're losing so many to suicide, and we're seeing a dramatic increase in illness losses due in some part to toxic exposures while deployed. And then we also, of course, lose our loved ones to hostile action.

Lisnek: When we think of -- And you mentioned suicide. 31% was the statistic I read, which is just astounding. And that becomes a challenge for everybody in the family, I know. There's one son of a family member who was killed. His name is Tony Cordero, and I find his story amazing and how he remembers his father who he lost.

Carroll: It is. And, you know, we are their living legacy of service and sacrifice, honoring all those who have served and died. Tony's dad actually died in Vietnam. He was an aviator, was killed in a plane crash there. And Tony was just a baby. So now as a grown man, every Father's Day, he goes and washes the wall, the Vietnam Wall. And he said to me, and -- He said, "You know, I won't get to see my dad grow old. I won't get to take care of him. But the closest I can come to that is washing his name on the Vietnam Wall."

Lisnek: I know many of the people -- You have about 120 people who work for your organization, and so many of them have experienced this loss. That would seem to me to be a critical piece of being able to provide the service that you do. Everybody relates.

Carroll: Right. Right. You know, grief is not a mental illness it isn't a physical injury. I wish we could just take a pill to resolve it, but we can't. But what we can do is come together with others who truly understand and give each other that comfort and support. So that's that's what TAPS is. We're now a national family of over 90,000 surviving family members.

Lisnek: For family members who might be watching right now saying, "Hey, I didn't know about this organization. I want to play a role," what makes them "eligible," so to speak? It sounds like if you're a family member, you're eligible. How do they find you? How do they get involved?

Carroll: Oh, and it's not just family members. It's all those grieving the death of a military loved one are welcome. If you love someone who's served and who died, please get in touch with us at our help line at 800-959-TAPS or online at taps.org or social media @TAPSorg.

Lisnek: I'm so glad you mentioned the help line. so important. And again, for people who get together, just give me a little bit about what will they do when they get together? What will they experience?

Carroll: You know, we provide families with wraparound care. It's emotional support, but it's also casework assistance. It's a 24/7 help line. It's our quarterly magazine. It's chat groups. It's TAPS Togethers. It's getting families together in any way that will just provide a support network We've got camps for kids that are wonderful, and we bring in military mentors to work one on one with the children. So it's a family, and we take care of each other.

Lisnek: If you want to believe that out of tragedy can come hope, you are certainly an example of that. Thank you so much for the work you do.

Carroll: Thank you very much. Lisnek: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community, around the country, just visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Paul Lisnek. Thanks for watching.

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