A Vermont mother who lost her veteran son to suicide received a boost Friday toward her effort to help vets with PTSD heal.
Val Pallotta of Colchester received $5,000 from American Legion Post 14 in Vergennes to help fund Josh’s House, a recreational wellness center that it still in the planning stages.
Josh Pallotta was 25 when he ended his own life in 2014. He had served with the Vermont National Guard in Afghanistan, where two close buddies were killed in action.
Josh was suffering from a traumatic brain injury and PTSD when he returned home to the Burlington area, his family said.
“The biggest part of my heart is gone,” Val Pallotta told necn Friday. “He was my only child.”
Josh’s mother is now turning grief into action. She testified before lawmakers in both Montpelier and in Washington, D.C. about veteran suicides, and launched a registered non-profit whose goal is goal to build a retreat for recreation, fitness, and therapy for vets with PTSD.
“I think it's the least we could do, as a community, to support the veterans in any way we can when they come back,” said Ralph Wenzel, the commander of American Legion Post 14. “They sacrificed a lot.”
Pallotta said the American Legion’s donation brings her fund to near $100,000. She said she has been looking at properties around Chittenden County as she continues her work developing Josh’s House.
“When you hear from a veteran who's struggling, and who has attempted suicide five times because they're struggling, that they would go to Josh's House tomorrow if it was here, that gives you a little more motivation for it to come faster,” Pallotta said.
Numbers from the Department of Veterans Affairs show roughly 20 vets each day die as Josh did, by suicide.
“The numbers are epidemic proportions,” said Dr. Laura Gibson, a clinical psychologist with the VA in Vermont.
Gibson said the department has significantly expanded support services for vets at risk, aiming for early intervention.
Also, Gibson said the VA is growing peer-to-peer counseling programs and expanding access to 24/7 hotlines for talk or text.
“Any suicide is a suicide too many,” Gibson said. “We take it seriously. But I do feel like the VA is thinking innovatively and doing innovative things.”
Gibson pointed veterans in crisis to the number 1-800-273-TALK, and told them to press 1 for caring and confidential help. More information on crisis services is available at this website.
To seek care through the VA in Vermont, Gibson said to call Burlington Lakeside Behavioral Health at 802-657-7083, or the White River Junction VA Medical Center at 802-295-9363.
At the turkey supper in Vergennes where Pallotta received the donation from the American Legion, Pallotta told the crowd she will keep pushing for a new place where Vermont vets can heal.
“And I won't stop until there's an end to veterans' suicide,” Pallotta said.