In her first speech as a newly elected U.S. senator, Kyrsten Sinema laid out her determination to work on behalf of veterans and mentioned, specifically, the case of Sgt. Daniel Somers, an Arizona veteran suffering from PTSD who took his life in 2013.
Sinema said, “The story of Sergeant Somers and his parents — the failure of the VA bureaucracy to provide the support this Arizona veteran needed, and the resulting tragedy — is not a story that dominated the national headlines. It wasn't a political scandal or a partisan food-fight to which members of Congress were pressured to respond ... but it's exactly the kind of work that matters.”
She is 100% correct.
And has proven to be 100% committed.
Shortly after his death, Sinema called
Sgt. Somers wrote a long, impassioned letter outlining his difficulties, saying in part, "Is it any wonder that the latest figures show 22 veterans killing themselves each day?"
He told his parents, “I am sorry that it has come to this. The fact is, for as long as I can remember my motivation for getting up every day has been so that you would not have to bury me. As things have continued to get worse, it has become clear that this alone is not a sufficient reason to carry on … I am left with basically nothing. Too trapped in a war to be at peace, too damaged to be at war. ... This is what brought me to my actual final mission."
The letter went viral, with hundreds of thousands of views. Those who read it were inspired, horrified, outraged. Shortly after writing it, Daniel committed suicide.
Shortly after that, Daniel’s parents, Howard and Jean, received a call from then-Rep. Sinema.
I know because I spoke with them often in those days. Jean Somers called her son the "original whistleblower."
Now, she's introduced a bill
Sinema has maintained contact with Daniel’s parents ever since. This week, she introduced the “Sgt. Daniel Somers Veterans Network of Support Act.”
She did so by working with Republican cosponsors Sens. Thom Tillis and Marsha Blackburn, along with Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand.
The press release from Sinema’s office said the bill would “allow active duty service members leaving the service to designate up to 10 loved ones to receive information from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on benefits and services available to veterans and their loved ones from the VA and community partners.”
In a statement accompanying the release Sinema said, “Troops leaving military service face confusing and complicated red tape when navigating their veterans benefits. Educating and empowering our veterans’ loved ones about the resources available will ensure veterans never feel alone and get the support and benefits they’ve earned.”
Over the years I’ve spoken with Howard and Jean a number of times. They’ve traveled to Washington to lobby for veterans’ care and have worked closely with Sinema.
“She’s our guardian angel,” Howard told me once. “And she’s Daniel’s guardian angel – a guardian angel for all veterans, really. Bless her.”