ARLINGTON, Va. (WAVY) – The parents of Brandon Caserta were part of a wreath laying ceremony this week at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, marking another breakthrough for the Brandon Act.
Teri and Patrick Caserta have advocated for the law ever since their son Brandon died by suicide on Naval Station Norfolk in June 2018. It requires the armed services to make mental health resources more accessible and confidential. President Biden signed it into law nearly two years ago but the Pentagon began to implement only four months ago.
The Monday observance, attended by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Rep. Jen Kiggans (R-Va.), was a more solemn “silent ceremony,” meaning the guards say fewer words, do not count their steps aloud, and signal each other with their boots.
The wreath had three sashes “to honor Brandon, to honor the Brandon Act, and to honor all service members lost to suicide. We were told that we were the first to do that (at Arlington),” Teri Caserta said.
“Those members are members in good standing just like anyone else, and the sacrifices that they make in the nation’s service should be recognized,” said Kaine, who co-sponsored the Brandon Act, and has worked closely with the Casertas through the legislative process.
Kiggans a Navy veteran from a family with deep military roots, made a strong impression on Brandon’s parents.
“We had never met her before until (the ceremony), but she was amazing, really dynamic, really gung-ho,” Patrick Caserta said
Said Kiggans: “It was a silent ceremony, it was beautiful to remember but also to highlight why they were there in the first place.”
The Casertas say they want to amend the Brandon Act to require more messaging and notices in the workplace, to make sure servicemembers know about the law and how to access the mental health programs already in place.
“The job is ours in the military to make sure we are conveying to the members that help is out there,” Kiggans said.