hometown heroes

Peoria family fights for mental health in military

Casertas named Hometown Heroes in Health Care category

Posted 4/10/22

A new law is one way to change things for the better in this country — that is, if lawmakers could agree on anything these days.

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hometown heroes

Peoria family fights for mental health in military

Casertas named Hometown Heroes in Health Care category

Posted

A new law is one way to change things for the better in this country — that is, if lawmakers could agree on anything these days.

But don’t tell that to Peoria residents Teri and Patrick Caserta, who created the eponymous Brandon Act, named after their son who died by suicide while serving in the U.S. Navy and stationed in Norfolk, Virginia.

This bill empowers the service member to get mental health assistance without going through their chain of command, immediately and without retaliation or reprisal. After three years of fighting for it, a journey lined with roadblocks, the Brandon Act was signed into law by President Joe Biden on Dec. 27, 2021.

Teri said it took nonstop perseverance and help from a number of organizations and individuals, but they were able to reach the finish line and finally bring justice to their son.

Making a difference is how things get changed, whether it’s laws, ordinances, or just community guidelines, Teri said.

“Patrick and I want to stop active-duty and veteran suicides. We were told by many people that the Brandon Act would never pass because it is very hard to get anything passed through Congress,” she said. “We believe anyone can make a difference if they are passionate about their mission even when there are obstacles in the way. If there is a will, there is a way. If you want change, you have to be the change and fight for what you believe in.”

For their efforts, Teri and Patrick have been named the Peoria Independent Hometown Hero in the Health Care category.

The Hometown Heroes Awards are a celebration of individuals who live or teach in the city, and Peoria businesses for their local achievements and distinguished contributions to the community.

The Casertas will be honored at an awards luncheon next year.

In partnership with the city of Peoria, they will be interviewed by the city and aired on Channel 11.

The new law established a standard phrase, like “Brandon Act,” that when spoken by a member of the Armed Forces to a commanding officer or supervisor would trigger a confidential mental health evaluation referral that would not require a notification to the command.

Sen. Mark Kelly, who sponsored the bill, said the Brandon Act is law because of the hard work of the Casertas.

“We met early on last year and checked in often, and it was clear that they would stop at nothing to get this done,” Kelly said. “I have such admiration for the strength it took to share Brandon’s story to show why this bill is so important and build support for it. Thanks to their hard work, this bill is going to make a big difference in the lives of our service members by ensuring they get mental health care when they need it most.”

Get to know more about the Caserta's here.

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