Monday, November 9, 2009

A heavyweight's fight

In 1974 the University of Iowa battled the University of Northern Iowa in a dual wrestling meet at the West Gymnasium on the UNI campus. Mark Onstott, a member of the UNI Athletic Hall of Fame as a swimmer, was there. “My favorite, non-swimming, athletic memory from UNI was the 1974 Iowa versus UNI wrestling meet. All of the swimmers came right out of practice, sat on the front row and cheered the guys on…It came down to the heavyweight match. Randy Omvig beat the Iowa guy for the win.”

In 1975, Randy Omvig would win the NCAA Division II heavyweight championship and help the Panthers win the team title. On December 22, 2005 Randy Omvig and his wife, Ellen, experienced the ultimate parental tragedy. Their son, SPC Joshua Omvig, committed suicide after completing an eleven-month deployment in Iraq.

A few months later the Omvigs began the toughest battle of their lives – to prevent this from happening to anyone else. They began to study post-traumatic stress disorder and investigate the mental health care available to returning veterans. They created a website to share their story and got feedback from other troubled veterans and parents. They wrote letters, made phone calls and fought for better diagnosis and treatment options. Ultimately, the Omvigs approached US Representative Leonard Boswell, himself a Viet Nam veteran.

In July, 2006, Rep. Boswell introduced HR5771, “The Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act”. In May of 2007 The VA Inspector General reported that every year an estimated 1,000 veterans in VHA care commit suicide and that there are as many as 5,000 annual suicides among all living veterans. On November 5, 2007 President Bush signed the bill into law. After the signing, Rep. Boswell said this about the Omvigs, “While suffering this personal tragedy, they went on to help other veterans and their families and have advocated for improving all mental health services at the VA.” At the ceremony US Senator Tom Harkin said, “Make no mistake, this bill would not have passed without the personal engagement of Ellen and Randy Omvig.”

My dad, a Korean war veteran, taught me that when we send young men and women off to war we owe them. We owe them our prayers for their safe return home. We owe them our thanks for their service. And for those who are physically and psychologically damaged – we owe them nothing but the best care. We also owe Randy and Ellen Omvig our thanks for taking up the fight to save our sons and daughters, our husbands and wives and the kids we watched grow up.

This week we honor our veterans. Remember – we owe them.

For more on the Omvigs, visit the following sites.

1 comment: said...

I've always been patriotic, even though no one in my immediate family has served in the military. My brother gave me a challenge though that I now love to do: whenever you see a member of the armed forces in their dress or fatigues, go up to them and say thank you. talk to them and get to know them. It's amazing some of the things that have happened when all I did was say "thank you."