Traumatic Loss in the Military

Military loss is a unique kind of loss, but many others have been in your shoes. Bonnie Carroll shares her experience with Dr. Gloria Horsley. Carroll is the founder of TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors in the military). According to her, military loss is a very different experience. There are different words in our culture to talk about these kinds of losses. Someone “gave the ultimate sacrifice” and there’s even a national day of mourning. There are national cemeteries just for those who died in the military. You can find these throughout the country.

These are all ways we can honor those who served and died in the armed forces. There’s a full notification process in the military when someone dies—most people have heard of this. However, this in itself can be a traumatic event. The rest is filled with ritualistic aspects, from the missing man formation to the playing of “Taps.” All of these aspects give honor to the service and family, but they can also be traumatizing for life.

A Different Type of Loss

TAPS works with families to incorporate these rituals in a way that provides comfort and healing. When someone is deployed for a long time, getting a notification can make it difficult to really comprehend what happened. If you don’t see someone for months or years, it might not seem real. There’s also a lot of media attention at times, which can be invasive for some families. TAPS is available around the country, both online and in person.

“Our loved one died, but they also lived an extraordinary life,” says Carroll. That’s what families need to keep in mind, especially during the hardest days. Military loss is unique, but bear in mind that you still have comfort and empathy available.

Bonnie Carroll

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Bonnie Carroll is the Executive Director of Survivor Programs for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), the national Veterans Service Organization providing peer support, grief and trauma resources and information, casualty casework assistance and crisis intervention for all those affected by the death of a loved one serving in the armed forces. Ms. Carroll served in Baghdad, Iraq as the Deputy Senior Advisor for Programs in the Ministry of Communications. In that capacity, she managed the execution of a quarter billion dollars in US Supplemental funds for the reconstruction of the telecommunications capability in Iraq, the modernization of the postal service, and creation of the Iraq Communications and Media Commission. She continues to work with Iraqi surviving families facing traumatic loss. Before going to Iraq, Bonnie was the White House Liaison for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in Washington, DC. In that capacity, she provided coordination between the White House and the VA. Prior to this appointment, she served as director of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) in the development of programs to aid families coping with a traumatic loss in the military. Ms. Carroll founded TAPS following the death of her husband, Brigadier General Tom Carroll, in an Army C-12 plane crash in 1992. She is a trained Critical Incident Stress Debriefer, member of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies and Chairman of the Military Committee of the American Association for Death Education and Counseling. She has authored numerous articles on grief and trauma and appeared on CNN, FOX, NBC’s the Today Show and other programs speaking about military loss. Carroll is a Major in the Air Force Reserve, where she has served as Chief, Casualty Operations, HQ USAF. Her last assignment was HQ USAF National Security and Emergency Preparedness staff in the Pentagon, and the USAF Directorate of Homeland Security. Prior to joining the USAFR, Major Carroll served 16 years in the Air National Guard as a Transportation Officer, Logistics Officer, and Executive Officer. During her earlier career in Washington, DC, Ms. Carroll lived and worked on Capitol Hill as a political consultant on Presidential and Congressional campaigns and lobbyist on aerospace and defense issues. In the Federal Government, she held Presidential Appointments in the Reagan and Bush Administrations, including a senior level position within the West Wing of the White House as Executive Assistant for Cabinet Affairs. In this capacity, she served as liaison for President Reagan with his Cabinet, coordinating domestic and economic policy implementation. In the previous Bush Administration, Ms. Carroll served in the White House Counsel’s Office, assisting with the legal review process for Presidential nominees to the Cabinet and other senior government positions requiring Senate Confirmation. Ms. Carroll holds a degree in Public Administration and Political Science from American University and a degree in Equine Science from Springfield College. She has completed Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government’s Executive Leadership Program, and is a graduate of several military service schools, including the USAF Logistics Officer Course, Squadron Officers School, Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute, Academy of Military Science (Distinguished Graduate), and USAF Basic Training (Honor Graduate). To learn more about Ms. Carroll and TAPS, visit her website at: www.taps.org. Listen to Bonnie on Open to Hope Radio Bonnie appeared on the radio show Healing the Grieving Heart to discuss “Loss & the Military.” To hear her interview with Dr. Gloria and Dr. Heidi Horsley, click on the following link: www.voiceamericapd.com/health/010157/horsley121108.mp3

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