[Originally posted in the Danbury (Conn.) News-Times.]
Very near to Danbury there lived a true American war hero. His name was Rob J. Lytle Jr., and you may have heard of him when his obituary turned up in local newspapers in 2010.
His widow, Lori-Ann Lytle, who lives in New Milford, broke away from custom when she included her husband’s cause of death in his obit, and in the very first sentence: suicide.
She did so with intent—not to tarnish her husband’s memory but to give his death meaning. He died after a long battle with PTS, post-traumatic stress, a sad fact that Lori-Ann included as well.
Though Lori-Ann bravely gave a name to Rob’s demon—the one that for 20 years woke him, screaming, several times a month; sidelined him with anxiety, depression and alcoholism; and ultimately led him to take his life—that newsprint paragraph wasn’t room enough to tell the real story.
The real story is about a decorated war veteran who proudly served our country in the Army as an MP in Panama for Operation Just Cause and then in the Middle East for Operation Desert Storm, among other places.
He went on to work with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, which brought him back to Connecticut when he transferred to the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury. He worked hard and was promoted to lieutenant.
The real story is that Rob left behind a son, Alex, now 12.
He also left behind a paper trail, one that Lori-Ann discovered in a file folder after his death.
Unbeknownst to her, Rob had reached out to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to try and get help—requesting disability status due to PTS. He was denied, as was his subsequent appeal detailing the horrific things he saw and did in battle.
The disability status would have entitled him to free mental healthcare that might have saved his life.
Why are we bringing this to your attention?
Because though we’re partners with disparate career paths—CEO of a public relations agency and a criminal defense attorney who once defended a criminal case for Rob—we have in common a profound desire to help and to honor veterans by unmasking the hidden injuries of war, specifically the ones that impair the brain.
Together we attended the wake in July 2010 for Sgt. Lytle, and together we were stirred by an email Jim received from Lori-Ann earlier this month.
In it, Lori-Ann not only detailed her frustration with the government’s failure to help Rob but also expressed her resolve to make his death meaningful to other veterans who suffer PTS.
This clicked with the two of us.
Not only is Marian a champion of brain health, having survived the removal of a brain tumor at Massachusetts General, but we just recently hosted a party at our house in Stamford to raise money for the Bob Woodruff Foundation, which was founded after news reporter Bob Woodruff recovered from a brain injury sustained from an IED when he was covering the Iraq War.
Marian works, too, to promote the Home Base Program, a collaboration between the Red Sox Foundation and Mass General to assist veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars who have traumatic brain injuries and PTS.
Lori-Ann herself has donated money on Rob’s behalf to Disabled American Veterans (DAV). And when she heard of our work with the Woodruff Foundation, she asked if we could help her tell Rob’s story.
Yes, we can. And we hope you’re listening.
Through our work with these platforms, we’ve met a lot of veterans who have been terribly hurt, but Rob’s story has resonated most with us because it’s personal.
Rob Lytle’s death reminds us exactly why we, and the organizations we work with, are working to get assistance to those suffering traumatic brain injuries or PTS.
Each day more Americans understand the psychological impact of war, and more of us are giving money and time to the cause, but we need more—more money, more time, more ears for the cause.
As Memorial Day approaches, we ask you to consider war veterans like Rob Lytle whose injuries were suffered unseen. Some are lucky enough to get help, others not so lucky.
We need the VA system to change now so that other veterans don’t hurt themselves because they aren’t getting the help they need.
There’s one more part of Rob’s story that we want to tell.
Remarkably, in her email, Lori-Ann wrote that Rob remained, in spite of it all, “so proud to be an American and believed 100 percent in the goodness of our government.”
Let’s not prove him wrong, and let’s show Lori-Ann and Alex that his death was not in vain.
Please help us honor this true American war hero.
Donations can be sent in Rob Lytle’s honor and memory to the Woodruff Foundation (ReMIND.org or mail a check to: Bob Woodruff Foundation 100 Wall St. 2nd Floor NY, NY 10005), the Home Base Program (homebaseprogram.org) or the Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust (cst.dav.org), a nonprofit that provides services to veterans with PTS.
[photo: Lori-Ann Lytle]