The widow of a U.S. Marine who took his own life in October 2013 will join Sen. Richard Blumenthal at the State of the Union Address to drum up support for the Department of Veterans Affairs and push for more help for troubled vets.
“I think Justin’s story fits in the best with all of this because he did end his life, even with the help that was provided," Joanna Eldridge said of her late husband. "It didn’t work for him and what is happening now isn’t working for soldiers.”
Justin Eldridge joined the Marines in 2005 as an engineer and later served an emotionally trying eight-month tour in Afghanistan. Shortly thereafter, his bouts with depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder began.
“My husband was a very private man as far as his illness went. He put on a very good face for other people but he struggled. It was a very, very long, arduous process to get him into the VA," Joanna Eldridge explained.
She admitted to having dark thoughts about where his behavior might take him.
“I have to be honest. I felt that something like this may happen somewhere down the road simply because of how bad his injuries were," she said. "I was 31 when he passed and [had] four small kids. It really was a very difficult transition. We’re very lucky to have so much support from my family and my friends."
Joanna Eldridge said she feels she has an obligation to attend the State of the Union to rally support for other military families affected by the terrors of war.
Blumenthal has presented legislation for the second straight year that, if passed, would provide millions of dollars to doctors and mental health professionals, as well as increased research into health issues facing veterans.
“I think there needs to be more help. I think there needs to be different kinds of help. I think they need to be researching more into PTSD and traumatic brain injury because most of the time those are going hand in hand, and the correlation between those and how they affect the soldiers, the marines and the sailors coming home,” Joanna Eldridge said.
She said if her story helps another family somewhere that's dealing with similar issues, her trip to Washington will be worthwhile.
“My number one priority with this is to get veterans help because I do not want to see another family go through what my family went through," she said. "To see children deal with this type of loss is just heartbreaking.”