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Gold Star Family continues fight for change after son’s death: 'We can save others'

21-year-old aviation electrician lunged into helicopter's rotor blades
BrandonCaserta.jpg
Navy
Posted at 12:39 AM, Jun 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-28 00:53:33-04

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- June 25 is a day forever tainted for Brandon Caserta’s mother and father. Three years ago, two Navy chiefs knocked on their door.

Brandon Caserta’s mother, Teri Caserta, got choked up as she remembered the tragic day of June 25, 2018.

“They say the dreaded words everybody dreads to hear is, ‘We regret to inform you that your son Brandon Caserta passed away today.’ Then they proceeded to tell us how he died,” she said. “That will forever haunt us both.”

Friday marked the Navy Sailor’s horrific death.

The aviation electrician was only 21 years old when he killed himself by lunging into the rotor blades of a helicopter.

His parents believe his squadron’s command bullied him while at Naval Station Norfolk, and when the pain became too much to bear, they said Brandon took his own life.

“Not one person helped Brandon - not one - and that hurts more than anything,” said Teri as she held back tears.

BrandonCaserta.jpg
Brandon Caserta

Military members and friends came together Friday night at the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach to honor Brandon’s legacy while also putting pressure on Congress to pass a bill in his name.

The Brandon Act, advocates say, would save lives and help end military suicide by providing resources and services to active duty members without fear of retaliation.

His parents have been pushing to pass The Brandon Act for two years.

“Unfortunately, Brandon’s tragedy, we can’t bring him back, but we can save others and that’s what this is all about,” said Patrick Caserta, Brandon’s father.

Navy

The Brandon Act was reintroduced in Congress last week. Lobbyists are determined more than ever to push for the bill’s passing this year.

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) hosted Friday’s event. The national organization started a campaign to help bring awareness to the bill.

“This is a piece of legislation that is long overdue,” said Crystal Romero, the LULAC Subcommittee Chair for Military & Veteran Affairs.

Romero is a veteran who’s attempted suicide while suffering with PTSD. Romero said the number of veterans and service members who die by suicide averages 22 a day.

“Unfortunately, it’s too high; it’s 22 too high,” she said. “It’s hard for the general public to understand, because the veteran community is so small. We make up 7% of the United States population as veterans. Active duty is less than 2%. The struggles we face, a lot of them go unknown because we just don’t have the right representation, but this legislation is definitely a step in the right direction.”

Teri and Patrick Caserta

Following in his father’s footsteps by joining the U.S. Navy in 2015, the Casertas said Brandon loved serving his country.

Teri proudly wears her son’s dog tags around her neck. She said Brandon was full of life and charisma and helped everybody.

“We want everybody to remember his smile and that he was a person; he’s not a number,” Teri said. “He was charismatic. He was funny. He was personable.”

The Casertas don’t want their son’s death to be in vain and said they’ll continue their fight to change the culture in the military - no matter how long it takes.

“That’s the unfair part is that now it’s left up to us to do something,” said Teri Caserta. “If something would have been in place or implemented, Brandon would still be alive today and so would so many other services members who have died.”