TAPS Celebrates 25 Years of Providing Hope and Healing
Author: Victoria Leoni
On November 12, 1992, Bonnie Carroll’s world crashed. On that stormy day nearly three decades ago, an Army C-12 plane hit the Chilkat Mountains of Alaska, killing Brigadier General Thomas C. Carroll and seven other soldiers onboard.
With the death of Tom Carroll, the Army lost an accomplished leader and the commanding general of the Alaska Army National Guard. Bonnie, an Air National Guard officer and former White House appointee, lost the love of her life.
In the days and months following her loss, Bonnie looked for organizations that understood her husband’s service and sacrifice and could support her through her grief. She found her greatest source of support not in a formal group, but in the company of other widows and families who had lost loved ones in the crash. They could truly understand her pain and help her find hope and healing in the days ahead.
Immediately, Bonnie realized there were many more surviving military families who desperately needed that same peer-to-peer emotional support. On October 17, 1994, she formally launched the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) to provide comfort and care to all those grieving the death of a military loved one.
More Than 90,000 Have Found Comfort
Over 25 years, TAPS has been home to more than 90,000 surviving military family members who have lost loved ones to combat, suicide, illness, training, accidents and other causes. What began as an informal care group of grieving widows has evolved into the leading organization serving bereaved military families nationwide.
As new conflicts have emerged and millions of Americans have answered the call to serve, TAPS has expanded its capacity to heal the hearts and meet the needs of all who are grieving a fallen hero.
Peer support, also known as companioning, is the basis of all TAPS programs. Across the country, thousands of TAPS Peer Mentors—adults at least 18 months beyond their own loss who have been trained in peer support—form lifesaving connections with those whose loss is more recent.
The annual TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp, first held in 1995, has expanded from a one-room program into a multi-day event with thousands of surviving family members coming together in the nation’s capital each Memorial Day.
The TAPS National Military Survivor Helpline, 800-959-TAPS (8277), answered continuously since 1994, now receives over 20,000 calls each year, with trained peer professionals available 24/7 to support those in emotional crisis or meet critical needs.
TAPS Casework Assistance, which serves as a frontline resource for bereaved military families, has helped surviving family members navigate a complex bureaucracy to access their benefits and has provided millions of dollars in critical emergency financial assistance.
While core services have remained constant, TAPS continues to develop new programs and services to respond to emerging needs among its survivors.
Suicide Prevention & Postvention
In 2009, the TAPS Suicide Prevention & Postvention program was instituted to address the growing issue of suicide among service members and veterans of the post-9/11 era. To date, the program has cared for more than 13,500 suicide loss survivors using a postvention model of support that TAPS proactively shares within military and veteran communities and with civilian mental health professionals.
While suicide is the leading cause of death bringing bereaved military families to TAPS, it is closely followed by illness. TAPS is currently developing a program to specifically address the needs of families grieving the death of a service member to illness, including illnesses potentially related to exposure to burn pits and other known toxins.
In its 25th year, TAPS is prepared to meet the needs of the future families who will call it home. TAPS will be there for these families, just as it has been for all the families the organization has cared for thus far.
And while some needs will change and services will adjust, the mission will remain the same:
“Remember the Love, Celebrate the Life, Share the Journey.”
TAPS honors the selfless sacrifice of our nation’s fallen heroes and forever stands strong in its commitment to caring for the loved ones they left behind.