How We Got Started
Purple Star Veterans and Families was originally established in 2003 as Veteransandamilies.org and founded by John Henry Parker and his son, Sgt Danny Facto. Danny was a Purple Heart Recipient and Combat Veteran who had just returned home from two tours in Afghanistan with the Army 10th Mountain Division.
Veteransandfamilies.org became a project of The Veterans and Families Foundation after the foundation recieved its 501 ( c ) 3 non-profit status in 2005.
In the fall of 2003 Sgt Danny Facto was stationed at Shkin Fire Base, a mud fenced Alamo also known as “The Evilest Place” in a Time Magazine article. Shkin is in the Afghan border region approximately three miles from Pakistan. Sgt. Facto was interviewed on a special segment of Peter Jennings’ “World News Tonight“ when General Abizaid the commander of troops in Afghanistan visited the forward fire base for a first hand assessment of the battlefield.
Shortly after this interview, Danny telephoned his father from Afghanistan. Danny, a married father of two children, described how he was having major concerns about coming home after seeing and experiencing the realities of combat. Danny stated “that he was just too ______ up to come home”. He added that he would likely be in need of “serious” counseling when he returned to the U.S., and expressed a high level of anxiety about how his experiences would affect his ability to transition back to a “normal” family and civilian life after his deployment.
Alarmed by this dilemma, John Henry began an aggressive and broad based search for solutions and resources to see how he could help his son handle what would later be diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and to find ways to ease his re-integration into civilian life. While he did find limited mental health resources available for Veterans, he was not able to locate any long-term readjustment assistance for family members like himself who would be so heavily invested in his Danny’s day-to-day readjustment.
A defining moment occurred when a mental health professional declared to John Henry that unfortunately, their resources were stretched with existing Veterans from Vietnam and the first Gulf War and even if Danny was suicidal, he may only be seen once per month for individual counseling. It was in that moment an alarm sounded that something was terribly wrong.
Out of his concern for his son and his family, shortly after his return, Danny and his father co-created The Veterans and Families Foundation (veteransandfamilies.org) to help others who are experiencing similar circumstances.
In mid-2004, they began a collaboration to research the unmet needs of Veterans and their families going through homecoming and long-term reintegration. From this collaboration they created a free homecoming preparedness guide to be distributed through the Internet. The guide was completed in early 2005. At that time there were very scarce resources and information about what the war on terror would bring home to the Veterans and their families transitioning back into civilian life.
To download the guide click on the graphic
Unfortunately, Danny did not survive his full transition to civilian life due to a fatal high speed related motorcycle accident on July 15, 2009. Shortly after Danny’s passing John Henry was talking with a Blue Star Mother, Melanie Reagan who suggested that he would now be a Gold Star Father. Gold Star Families have this designation because they have lost a family member who was actively serving in the military. After further conversation a question was posed “if there is an organization to honor the families of active duty service members, (Blue Star) and an organization to honor the families of the fallen during military service, (Gold Star) why is there not similar “Star” organization to honor Veterans and their families who are going through homecoming and transition? as important, a star organization to honor and support the families of Veterans who are not surviving homecoming?”
From this conversation it was determined that in Danny’s memory the name would be changed from Veteransandfamilies.org to Purple Star Veterans and Families (purplestarfamilies.org).
National Petition to The President of The United States
In honor of Danny's vision and passion for helping Veterans who suffer from their wartime experiences, a national petition was created to rally Veterans and families members together to change the way the military prepares service men and women for their transition into civilian life. In July of 2012, to memorialize Danny's passing, the national petition was launched on Change.org.
One veteran who worked closely with John Henry on the petition project is Adam McCabe, former Marine and OIF Combat Veteran, who became a passionate advocate early on, and is a founding member of the Purple Star Chapter of Carbondale, Colorado, the first of it's kind in the country. Adam was a driving force in getting out the Purple Star message and awareness of the petition, and developed a resolution with Danny's talking points for the State of Colorado to officially adopt the Purple Star Veterans and Families Petition to the President. As a result, Colorado became the first state to officially pass such a resolution, and consequently, Purple Star volunteers and advocates in many states are now proposing similar state resolutions.
Today, John Henry volunteers and the PSVF Advisory board continue to pull together thought leaders and mental health professionals to collaborate on the development of a best practices transition preparedness and decompression program to be introduced to the Department of Defense and The Veterans Administration. From the years of collaboration with Danny, John Henry is scribing and illustrating the concepts and content they created together. Today, from this work, a small but growing group of Veterans, family members and Veteran’s advocates are speaking to groups and organizations across the country using the talking points from this original work.
The Veterans Transition Map and Action Plan
The Map and Action Plan concept and design were originally developed from a series of late night and early morning conversations between Danny and his father shortly after his return home from his second tour in Afghanistan with the Army 10th Mountain Division. On many nights, Danny was unable to sleep and would put his wife and children to bed and lock up the house so that he could guard their home from perpetrators from the vantage point of a ditch close to their home. On many nights, Danny would call his father and they would talk for hours until he finally needed to go inside to sleep.
The idea of a map to orient Veterans into the important areas of life began to take form during this collaboration that a vision of training large networks of Veteran peer mentors to deliver this self-help model began to materialize. Together, they began a deeper exploration into many areas of personal, professional, transformational and spiritual development and these foundational conversations became the focus of exploration for Danny and his father. They had a simple agreement and a plan for bringing this vision into reality. It was agreed at that time, Danny would focus 100% of his efforts on getting his Masters in Clinical Social Work (MCSW) from Syracuse University and his father, John Henry would focus on exploring healing modalities, technologies and immersion-based, experiential retreats and trainings focusing on reducing the severity of symptoms from Post Traumatic Stress Injuries. Upon graduation with his MCSW, Danny would then be introduced to the thought leaders and authors of the programs that had been investigated with the highest potential for integration into a more comprehensive holistic approach to healing. From 2004 - 2014, ideas, content, processes and exercises were formulated and integrated into what is now The Veterans Transition Map and Action Plan, available for download at Purplestarfamilies.org.
Unfortunately, Danny's passing would prevent him from realizing his vision personally but his work and efforts are foundational to the guiding mission of Purple Star. On the day of Danny's passing he had accepted the honor of being Syracuse University's Veterans Liaison. His role would have been to assist new Veterans as they acclimated to life on and off campus. This would have been his next step in career goal of being an advocate and counselor for Veterans. His difficulties in adjusting to college life after service would have served many Veterans coming into the Syracuse campus.
As a final note to our history. Danny's passing from a high-speed motorcycle accident four years after leaving the military was ultimately deemed "Service Connected" due to the perseverance of a dedicated VA case worker who was mentoring Danny for a position within the Syracuse VA system.
The mission of Purple Star Veterans and Families is to connect and unify the voice of this community to provide support and to create needed change in how we prepare our Veterans to rejoin their families and to prepare for advanced education and employment.
In the United States, there are hundreds of thousands of returning current Veterans like Danny, multiplied by tens of millions of family members who are being impacted by war and deployment. John Henry and Danny began this journey with a motivation to help others through the trials of homecoming and to mitigate the loss and suffering of so many families.