A father’s tale reminds D.C. of vets’ trauma.
The story of the life and death of Brooke Leigh Caffrey took U.S. senators by surprise when her father, Wayne Telford of Grand Junction, told them on Tuesday, shortly before the senators headed into the U.S. House of Representatives for the State of the Union address.
Telford attended a dinner with the senators and their guests as a guest of U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., just before the annual address, then sat in the gallery for the speech.
It was the dinner, however, where Telford was able to tell the story of his daughter, who committed suicide on Jan. 5, 2012, after her fourth deployment.
“I couldn’t have scripted it any better,” Telford said. “Sen. Bennet kicked in the door and said, ‘Wayne has a story to tell you.’ “
It was for that opportunity that Telford, a Vietnam War veteran, went to Washington, he said.
“There was a look of shock when I related the story about my daughter,” Telford said.
Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who was held prisoner of war for six years in North Vietnam, was particularly touched, Telford said.
“McCain, he embraced me,” Telford said. “He just gave me a great big hug and said, ‘I feel the sorrow you have.’ “
Telford joined a panel set up by Bennet to look into ways to reduce suicide by veterans.
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 22 veterans a day commit suicide.
That statistic, however, pales in comparison to the events that Telford related to the senators, he said.
“I don’t think they engage with people who have suffered that loss,” Telford said. “They just don’t come face to face with a mom or dad who has been there. That’s why I was there, to bring that awareness.”
President Barack Obama’s introduction of Sgt. Cory Remsburg at the end of the speech provided the perfect closing message for the story of returning veterans that Telford began with the senators and their guests, Bennet said.
McCain mentioned to him later that he was touched by meeting Telford.
“There are guys like that all over Colorado who sacrificed for this country and have come back,” Bennet said of Telford and his daughter.
“We’re not taking as good care of them as we should,” Bennet said.