Time to Take the Dwyer Program National
Op-ed by Congressman Lee Zeldin
Memorial Day marks not only the long-awaited start of summer on Long Island, but a much more somber and significant occasion. On Memorial Day, we pause to mourn, honor and remember all those who died while serving in the United States military.
However, we should also use this occasion to remember all the servicemen and women who lost their lives after their tours of duty ended. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that nearly 20 veterans per day lose their lives to suicide, often resulting from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI).
PFC Joseph P. Dwyer, a Mount Sinai native, served in the U.S. Army in Iraq and became famous when a photo of him carrying an Iraqi child to safety made worldwide news in 2003.
Tragically, PFC Dwyer’s service took a mental toll when he returned home, and he lost his battle with PTSD in 2008. It’s important to note that Joe did not commit suicide. He was seeking temporary relief from his suffering and his last words were, “I don't want to die.”
The stories of Joseph Dwyer and so many veterans, who sacrificed so much only to come home and continue enduring the trauma they experienced overseas, inspired me to create the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Veteran Peer Support Program while serving in the New York State Senate. The Dwyer Program helps veterans transition to post-service life by creating a safe, confidential and educational network for veterans to support each other and share common experiences.
I’m incredibly proud of how successful the Dwyer Program has been at the state level. Suffolk County served as one of the four test counties when launching the program, and since then, it has expanded to over 25 counties across New York, saving lives and assisting tens of thousands of veterans battling PTSD and TBI.
Due to the program’s success in New York, I have launched an effort to expand the Dwyer Program nationally. Last week, I urged the House Veterans' Affairs Committee to support my bipartisan legislation, H.R. 1476 - the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Program Act.
This bill, which I reintroduced in March, has been cosponsored by 23 of my House colleagues from both sides of the aisle and earned the support of 14 veterans advocacy organizations, including the American Legion, Military-Veterans Advocacy, Blinded Veterans Association, Military Order of the Purple Heart, American Ex-Prisoners of War, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Catholic War Veterans, NYC Veterans Alliance, Jewish War Veterans, Fleet Reserve Association, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Wounded Warrior Project, AMVETS, and American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
H.R. 1476 would make the critical services the Dwyer Program provides available to veterans across the country and help them overcome the mental wounds of war and successfully transition back to civilian life.
As we honor those who died defending our freedoms and liberties overseas, we must be sure to remember Joseph Dwyer and all the veterans who fell victim to the invisible wounds of war. It should also motivate us as Americans to care for our military heroes and ensure that the mental health resources and programs the Dwyer Program offers are available to veterans nationwide.
Congressman Lee Zeldin represents New York’s First Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.