Veteran's family plans mental health summit
The Wilson Daily Times, N.C.
Johnny Borunda wants to spare combat veterans the frightening flashbacks and piercing pain that drove his son to the brink of suicide.
The Wilson resident is planning an afternoon summit on post-traumatic stress disorder and veterans’ health care next month. He’s seeking solutions to the problems that led to his son’s Aug. 15 shooting at the hands of a Wilson police officer.
"This is not an isolated incident,” Borunda said. "This is a societal problem. We want to start helping the veterans before it gets that far — so it doesn’t get as far as Ryan’s case.”
Ryan Arcenio Borunda stood in the cul-de-sac outside his family’s Rand Road home clutching a knife after experiencing a flashback. His father says he was suicidal and wouldn’t obey police commands to drop the knife because he wanted to be shot.
Officer Donald Lucas shot Ryan Borunda in the stomach. The 26-year-old U.S. Army veteran survived and is recovering from his injuries.
Johnny Borunda is bringing the Military Mental Health Project’s executive director in from Arlington, Va., to headline the inaugural Call to Action Summit, scheduled from 1-4 p.m. Oct. 26 at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2057 outside Rocky Mount.
"Change is going to come from the local level — from the ground up,” he said. "It’s going to come from the families who have experienced it. Change is not going to come from the top down.”
The Military Mental Health Project is a nonprofit group that helps veterans and their families find PTSD treatment and other mental health services. The group will lobby the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and veterans’ congressional representatives for access to care and is also working with a network of attorneys to provide free or reduced-cost legal aid.
Jacob Angel, the group’s co-founder and executive director, said the goal is to reach veterans and their families in crisis before they harm themselves or others.
"Military suicide is something that is only escalating,” Angel said. "When somebody does commit suicide, it’s incredibly sad, but there’s nothing I can do to revive them or bring hem back. The key is to get to them before that happens.”
Angel is quick to criticize the VA health system, which he said has failed to diagnose and treat PTSD in its dealings with tens of thousands of returning troops.
"The progress of the VA is so slow and their systems are so antiquated that they’re really not prepared to deal with the current epidemic of PTSD,” he said. "At this point in time, the VA is stuck back in 1954 when everything runs on paperwork and typewriters.
"We can only imagine the sheer terror these guys are going through,” Angel added. "In my opinion, no one should have to go through that kind of fear, especially in a country that’s supposed to have the best health care system in the world.”
Angel said the VA denies health care benefits to veterans with certain criminal convictions and even those with pending charges. In many cases, he argues, post-traumatic stress may have caused or contributed to the incidents resulting in criminal charges.
"That’s not something that is acceptable to me,” he said. "What our organization strives to do is provide not only the services, but to provide ongoing support. We’re not an organization that’s just going to give you money to get therapy. We’re going to follow up with you. We want to be a part of your recovery.”
The Call to Action Summit will include other guest speakers and breakout sessions and will end with a panel discussion on military mental health. Johnny Borunda said the event’s still in the planning stages.
"I’ve kind of been thrown in the deep end with all of this based on what has happened with my son,” he said. "I’m kind of learning as I go.”
Organizers say the summit is open to the public. Veterans and their spouses, children and parents are encouraged to attend, along with anyone in Wilson and surrounding communities who’s concerned about the PTSD epidemic.
"The community as a whole should be there,” said Borunda’s wife, Carmen Borunda. "When it happened to our son, it happened in our neighborhood. It took a toll on the neighborhood. I think the whole community should take part in this summit.”