This is a tribute to all of those who work with people dealing with mental illness, particularly with veterans who return from service battling post-traumatic stress disorder and other afflictions.
In many cases, these health care providers are as heroic as those they serve. This was never more evident than on Friday, when a 36-year-old former Army infantryman, dressed in black and armed with a rifle and with extra ammunition draped around his neck, walked onto the Veterans Home of California campus in Yountville and killed three mental health clinicians at a residential program for traumatized veterans.
Today, we recognize these three workers in particular: Christine Loeber, 48, the executive director of the Pathway Home program at the Veterans Home of California; Jen Golick, 42, a staff therapist, and Jennifer Gonzales Shushereba, 32, a psychologist with the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care System in San Francisco.
As was reported Sunday, all three were devoted to assisting veterans and others recover from their wounds, both internal and external.
Gonzales Shushereba was six months pregnant and had been married just a year ago. On a GoFundMe site, friends noted how she had “dedicated her life to helping service men and women reintegrate and readjust to civilian life.” Her baby did not survive.
Before taking a position at Yountville, Golick had been the clinical director for Muir Wood Adolescent and Family Services, an agency based in Petaluma that helps boys ages 12 to 17 who are struggling with issues such as substance abuse and depression.
“The boys absolutely adored her,” said Scott Sowle, the agency’s founder and executive director.
Similiarly, friends and associates said Loeber, a Napa resident, was known for helping people to feel safe and cared for — and she was doing what she loved. “She radiated goodness, she was a wonderful person,” said Maura Turner a friend from Dedham, Massachusetts.
Their lives were taken by former infantryman Albert Wong, who had recently been kicked out of the Pathway Home, a post-traumatic stress disorder treatment program. He reportedly told a family member he was angry at the staff members and wanted to get back at them.
This was a tragic and heart-breaking event.
It’s unlikely the public will ever fully understand what led Wong to resort to such violence. But what’s clear is that veterans workers such as these three women are at the forefront of an under-supported battle to help those returning from duty overseas. In many cases, today’s veterans are returning from multiple deployments, and they sometimes bear the scars of multiple traumatic events.
In short, as we have noted before, we have too few people serving in the many places around the globe where the U.S. military is now positioned. Meanwhile, we have too few resources available to help them when they return.
And sometimes it is people like Loeber, Golick and Gonzales Shushereba who pay the highest price.
A memorial service will be held for these three women on March 19 at 6 p.m. at the Napa Valley Performing Arts Center on the Yountville veterans home campus.
A fund also has been created to provide support for the families of the victims. Donations can be sent to 3 Brave Women Fund c/o Mentis, 709 Franklin St., Napa 94559.