UNION COUNTY, NJ — The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders co-sponsored a screening of, “Thank You for Your Service,” a documentary revealing the impact of war on veterans. The presentation took place at Hamilton Stage in Rahway on Wednesday, Sept. 7, as a part of Freeholder Chairman Bruce H. Bergen’s UC HERO Initiative for 2016.
Statistics reveal that suicide among veterans is of epidemic proportions. A total of 22 veterans commit suicide daily, and the number has increased by 41 percent since 9/11. The film begins with an unsettling 911 call from a veteran’s loved one reporting a suicide.
The documentary featured interviews from United States Marine Corps veterans. They speak about their experiences with death, with a heavy emphasis on innocent civilians that were shot and killed. They reported that they had no time to process their actions and that they were so engrossed in doing their jobs that now, they are left feeling ashamed instead of being proud of what they did.
“I spent 20 years in the military,” audience member and resident of Roselle, Phil Martir, told LocalSource. “I saw mass grave sites in Kosovo. The battle images were so intense in the documentary. Bases are being shut down, when there are so many homeless veterans. I work for the Disabled Veterans Association.”
Film director Tom Donahue was inspired to create the documentary after losing his best friend to suicide, and reading a New York Times op-ed article titled, “A Veteran’s Death, the Nation’s Shame,” by Nicholas Kristof. Many of his family members are Army Veterans.
“The Family Foundation approached me with the opportunity to create this film,” Donahue told LocalSource. “We visited 55 cities in search of the people with the best stories.”
Donahue created a website in support of the creation of a Behavioral Health Corps. He hopes everyone who sees the documentary will be inspired to get involved and take action. He wants his work to affect change.
“When people visit the website bhcnow.com, a letter will be generated to congress in support of this cause,” Donahue said.
“The creation of the Behavior Health Corps is long overdue,” Martir told LocalSource.
State Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, spoke about the mental health crisis and the shortage of mental health professionals in the military. Following the screening, there was a panel discussion involving the film’s director Tom Donahue; producers Ilan Arboleda and Matt Tyson; Janna Williams, the founder of VET4U and a resident of Roselle; Richard Thompson, Union County director of the Office of Veterans Affairs; and Lt. Col. Steven Brozak, a Westfield resident and retired Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Marine Corps. Brozak served in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the Caribbean. The panel was moderated by Bergen.
“People don’t want to hear, ‘Thank You for Your Service,” said Tyson. “They’re no different than anyone else. They’re just doing their jobs.”
“People want to do more than say ‘thank you,” said Arboleda. “The government has yet to say ‘thank you.’”