12/15/2014 09:59 am ET Updated Feb 14, 2015

Tragedy or Pittance?


On Tuesday, 1 October 2013, Captain Lawrence "Rooster" Yacubian was found dead of a self-inflicted wound. Roo, as all of his friends knew him, is now a statistic, possibly another in a long line of comments about our "poor" nation's Veterans. To me, and to others who served with him, he was a leader, a friend, a battle buddy, and a brother.

I first met Roo when I started drilling with the Virginia Army National Guard in February 2009. He was just another company commander, but we got much closer when he moved over to the operations section of the battalion as the full-time operations officer. Whether it was some silliness by a senior officer or running the operations center in the field or whatever, Roo was always there with this silly, smirkish grin on his face that left everyone feeling the he was in on the joke well before you were. For many guys you serve with, you can "think" they're good or you can "know" they're good. The guys you think are good are ones you train with or do a project or two together, but you don't really know. Those other guys you deploy with or experience together a trial by fire. I never was privileged to deploy with Roo, but we did share a number of challenges. I knew he was good.

He was incredibly supportive when I told him about volunteering to a company command in Afghanistan, giving me many tips. He provided support on admin stuff while I was deployed, and was just an all-around helpful friend. When I came back he welcomed me and then threw a bunch of work at me. One evening, when I was going through some difficulties with the Virginia Army National Guard and work in the Obama administration, he took me out for a beer after our weekend drill. I was having a rough time and he knew it. We did what soldiers do: gave each other grief, drank a great deal, watched sports, flirted with women we had no chance with (politely, of course, since we're officers). He talked about his pending divorce and young daughter. It was a small instance of Roo being one of the finest officers and leaders I've known. We had a great evening and I came away knowing that he was there for me in every possible way, which helped immensely transitioning to my next stage.

Our last conversation must have happened in January or March. We caught up; I told him of my general plans, both with work and Army, and congratulated his promotion to Major, joking of my surprise that the promotion system actually worked. He told me about his divorce, how it was not fun, and spoke again about his daughter. I could just see him light up when he spoke about her: it literally chokes me up just recalling the memory.

I was in the library on Friday the 4th of October, browsing through Facebook, when I saw his obituary posted by a mutual friend. I was shocked, dumbfounded. Not knowing anything that had happened, I called friends from the unit until one answered and gave the brutal news. Disbelief was my first and second reaction, which gave way to a numbing haze. After speaking with a few more guys and getting a better picture of what had been done for him, the numbness evolved to anger, and eventually a grief that I could not be to Roo what he'd been to me. When I pieced together his last few weeks, it became clear that he had not been what he once was, but a little more despondent, not as cheerful. People around him noticed the change and reached out, talking to him, but in the words of one, "He just wouldn't let us in. It was like he had already made the decision."

The deepest tragedy is that Roo's family is not at all unique. Hundreds of military families have to go through this awful experience. As many readers know, there is currently legislation in the Senate, known as the Clay Hunt SAV Act named for a Veteran lost to suicide. It will help the Department of Veterans Affairs deal with this epidemic of Veterans' suicides. The cost is minimal, a $22 million drop in the bucket compared to the $1.1 trillion spending bill recently passed. The Clay Hunt SAV Act is currently being held up by one man, Senator Tom Coburn.

Senator Coburn, or Dr. No as he is known, has a history of putting holds on legislation he believes strain the federal budget. Given that he is resigning shortly due to illness, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that he sincerely believes this is right, and that no political pressure is going to change his position.

Given these dynamics, I would send a different message to the Senator, a moral one. In spite of his not having been a supporter of the Iraq War, this nation has a debt, a moral obligation to help, as President Lincoln put it, "care for him who shall have borne the battle." Like the friends and family of Clay Hunt, I believe that we, as a nation, can further prevent tragedies with this legislation.

It would be natural to think that the Senator, at the conclusion of his career, must be considering his legacy. Now my question is whether he wants to stand against those of us who've made sacrifices for our nation, or to do the right thing. Either way, Dr. Coburn, may God have mercy on your soul.