Brandon Caserta

Liberty High School graduate Brandon Caserta walked to the flight line at Naval Station Norfolk on June 25, 2018, and said, “I’m sorry you have to see this.”

The 21-year-old man threw himself onto the spinning tail rotor of the military helicopter. 

Since then, Brandon’s parents, Patrick and Teri Caserta, said they have left no stone unturned.

The Peoria couple are pushing for the passage of The Brandon Act. If signed into law, the act will refer someone who utters “I need to talk to someone about the Brandon Act” for a mental health evaluation.

On June 25, 2020, Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), along with the Casertas, presented the national legislation. Teri said The Brandon Act would make it easier for service members to seek mental health care unidentified.

“I am very vocal,” Teri said. “In order to get somebody interested, I have to tell them what he did when he died.”

Ironically, the Casertas said it was common ground that brought them together with The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), which is, reportedly, the nation’s largest and oldest Hispanic civil rights volunteer-based organization. 

Teri said the league understood its mission and “went right to work.” The league launched a month-long campaign on May 25, in Peoria to “Save Our Servicemembers.” A candlelight vigil was held in honor of Brandon at Rio Vista Community Park near the fishing pond at the Peoria’s Veterans Memorial.

Dr. Adam McCray, a clinical psychologist who helms Peoria’s West Valley Vet Center, reminded the crowd that it is possible to be successfully treated from PTSD. It’s never too late to seek help.

“We offer quick, easy access to care for any veteran servicemember who is struggling with difficulties in life,” McCray said. 

“We have a particular focus on suicide prevention, identifying concerns that are going on that may lead to suicidal ideation and intervening to save lives.”

Peoria City Councilperson and the governing body’s veterans liaison Bill Patena told the audience he will continue to work with the Peoria’s Veterans Memorial board to honor the municipality’s veterans.

“Tonight, we are gathered to honor the memory of Brandon Caserta, a hometown hero from right here in Peoria,” Patena said. “We gather to remember his life, his legacy and impact he brought to the world.”

According to Teri, the overall rate of deaths by suicide across the services rose from 2015 to 2019. Teri said The Brandon Act could help to identify and support servicemembers at risk. She called this “call to action” a step toward fully implementing a roadmap for suicide prevention in the military.

The goal of the Save Our Servicemembers (#SOS) campaign is to build national support for The Brandon Act. This could become a vital resource to all families of men and women in uniform who experience a mental health crisis, according to league vice chairman of the National Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs Leonard Gonzales.

The league wants to shine a spotlight on safety in the military ranks through several key initiatives including The Veterans Deportation and Prevention Act; The Military Justice Improvement Act; I Am Vanessa Guillen Act and The Brandon Act, according to Gonzales.

“There may be other legislation that’s introduced that helps to support this that we will certainly embrace,” Gonzales said. “We’re committed to this for the long haul, and we’re going to see this (Brandon Act) through.”

The Brandon Act is part of a broader mental health awareness campaign to help protect military members, Gonzales said.

“You know, when we send our sons and daughters, and we see our brothers and sisters or mothers and fathers, I think we have an expectation that they’re going to be safely taken care of, by their leadership into the culture that they serve,” Gonzales said.

“But we do not sign up for things like sexual assault, we don’t sign up for hazing and bullying.”

That said, the Casertas are committed to holding the Navy accountable. They want to bring justice to their son. 

“There is no interview that I can ever give to express to you the disappointment in people and the fact that no one in his command even cares that he is dead,” said Patrick, a retired Navy career counselor with 22 years of service. “I cannot get over that part.”