News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 10, 2012

Third annual Veterans Day program hosted by Ivy Tech Community College focuses on Wounded Warriors Project

Brian Boyce
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Awareness of issues facing veterans was raised with the nation’s colors inside Oakley Auditorium on Friday.

The third annual Veterans Day program hosted by Ivy Tech Community College featured speaker Mary Quinteros Tallouzi, who now works on behalf of the Wounded Warriors Project. But before becoming an activist for injured veterans and their caregivers, Tallouzi was the mother of two soldiers.

“I’m not here today to scare anyone. I’m here to share a part of my life and help raise awareness,” she said from the podium.

One of her sons, Daniel, was critically injured in 2006 while serving in Iraq. He would remain in various states of a coma until his death in 2009. Recalling the phone call she received on Sept. 25, 2006, Tallouzi described her shock at learning of her son’s traumatic brain injury. As a career insurance claims adjuster, she recalled knowing to write the information she received down on paper, but it was a struggle to make that happen.

As caregiver to her son, she spent the rest of his life fighting for his benefits, working to move him into the best private brain injury facilities in the country. Working through the network of mothers and fathers also caring for their injured sons and daughters, Tallouzi learned to navigate the health care system, helping others along the way. Those efforts paid off when on one occasion her son, who was in an “open-eyed coma,” managed to shout out “mom” shortly before his death, she recalled with emotion.

But without an advocate to support them, injured veterans face incredible obstacles. Tallouzi noted that some are abandoned by their spouses, and others are simply incapable of caring for themselves. The recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have produced more than 400,000 veterans with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder, she said.

It wasn’t until she began caring for her grown son that her own brother, a U.S. Marine, told her some of his experiences from three tours in Vietnam. Other veterans shared their experiences with her as well, and she emphasized the significance of knowing that she wasn’t alone.

Meanwhile, the Wounded Warrior Project began offering her support almost immediately, she recalled. From its trademark backpack full of supplies, to information and even financial assistance, its members helped her along the way as she now does for others.

When addressing troops bound for deployment, Tallouzi said she reminds the soldiers and sailors to make sure their power-of-attorney paperwork is in order. It’s not to scare them, she said, but having had to jump through the legal hoops of re-establishing guardianship of her grown son, it’s information she wants to share.

For the first time in its history, the U.S. has been fighting wars with an all-volunteer military. The draft long gone, awareness of the wars sometimes thins, she said. But the troops in today’s all-volunteer military are serving eight and nine tours instead of two or three. And the same medical technology which is saving their lives, is also returning them home with injuries.

Tallouzi now serves as a spokeswoman for the Wounded Warriors Project. Her son’s story was told in the book “Pediatrician Soldier” and featured in the New York Times.

Dr. Ann Valentine, Chancellor of the Ivy Tech Community College — Wabash Valley campus, noted prior to the speech that just this week, more than 100 million Americans freely participated in a presidential election. A rare occurrence in this world, Americans enjoy the liberty to peaceably choose their leaders.

“People around the world look at us in envy,” she said, adding that this liberty is afforded citizens by those who serve in the military.

Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or brian.boyce@tribstar.com.