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Fil-Am is most severely wounded Iraq veteran

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The most severely wounded and disabled US soldier to return home from Iraq is a Filipino-American by the name of Joseph “Jay” Briseno Jr. Shot in 2003 in the back of the neck at pointblank range that severed his spinal cord and left him quadriplegic and blind, Jay now lives with his parents and siblings in Virginia and requires full-time, around-the-clock care.

In an article by news editor Edmund Silvestre published in the Filipino Reporter, Jay’s father Joseph Sr., a retired US Army sergeant, describes the extent of his son’s injuries and needs: “Aside from spinal cord and brain injuries, Jay also suffered two cardiac arrests and has been attached to a life support… doctors told us that he would die, that it’s impossible for him to survive his injuries and that it’s best for all of us if he were to die.”

Paralyzed from his chin down, Jay cannot eat, move, speak or breathe on his own, Silvestre writes. “Although conscious, his ability to communicate is severely limited.”

Jay’s dad adds, though, that they still manage to communicate with Jay. “He can only blink, smile or grimace in response to questions like ‘Are you hungry?’” Briseno confides. “If his answer is yes, he’ll blink once. If no, twice.” Then he adds: “We miss him so much. I miss playing basketball with him, even those ‘Hi Dad, Hi Mom’ greetings when he comes home from school.”

Jay was 20 and an army reservist studying at George Mason University when he went to Iraq to work as a civil affairs specialist in the rebuilding effort in Iraq. He was helping assess security in the market area in Baghdad when he was shot. He received the Bronze Medal, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal and Combat Army Badge. But in many ways, his family, too, deserves recognition for their heroism in caring for Jay, and in never losing hope that someday, somehow, the son and brother they know will return to them.

* * *

Since Jay came home to their Manassas Park, VA residence, the family has transformed their basement into an intensive care unit where they take turns looking after him.

In the article, Briseno tells Filipino Reporter readers that he and his wife Eva Marie have given up their full-time jobs to care for Jay. Though they have hired nurses to look after Jay, there have been times when the family has had to do without outside help.

“Retirement is no longer an option,” says Briseno. “Even vacations for my daughters are out of the question. Even a trip to the grocery store for one of us requires a careful coordination of my family’s schedules.”

Silvestre reports that Jay received $100,000 in compensation from the US military, which also shoulders his medical care, but having him at home has entailed other costs. “All our savings, all our money, was just emptied… the 401(k)s, everything,” said Briseno.

“Various charities, especially Rebuilding Together, raised money to renovate their basement, supply a backup generator for the medical equipment, and install a lift so they can hoist Jay into a chair and bathe him in a handicapped accessible bathroom,” writes Silvestre.

“If you asked me this from the very beginning, if we can handle it, I wouldn’t lie to you. I would say no, that there is no way that we’re going to learn all these things,” said Jay’s dad. “But my wife and I learned everything. We are the respiratory technicians, the physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, wound care nurse.”

Despite all this, the Brisenos have no regrets. “We are only thankful, that our Jay is with us, that he is alive and living and with us, in our home, every moment of every day,” said the older Briseno. “And little by little, step by step, Jay has regained abilities we were told would be impossible, given the extent of his injuries.”

* * *

As if looking after his son was not enough, the older Briseno has also become involved in a foundation dedicated to the search for a cure for spinal cord injuries. He has become an ambassador for the Reeve Foundation’s Military Outreach Campaign, created to help all active and retired military with mobility Impairment from spinal cord injury or a traumatic brain injury.

Briseno said he hopes to promote the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation’s Paralysis Resource Center with other Filipino-Americans, the largest Asian-American group to serve in the US military.

Two years ago, writes Silvestre, Briseno was at Capitol Hill to lobby for support for the Reeve Foundation and for stem cell research. He also attends an annual symposium in Washington, D.C. for top scientists in the world doing research on stem cells. Last month, he was at the Reeve Foundation’s headquarters to address a forum where he shared his and his family’s sacrifices and love for Jay.

* * *

“Running a Bureaucracy,” the first, groundbreaking guidebook for local government administrators, public managers and elected officials, will be launched Thursday at the University of the Philippines National College of Public Administration and Governance (UP-NCPAG).

The book’s author, Maria Gladys Cruz-Santa Rita, is considered to date as the country’s longest-serving provincial administrator, helping Bulacan province for the past 17 years reach “its premier status as leading public service innovator and good governance model of the country.”

“Good governance and new public management advocates, including the NCPAG, recognize its potentials to be the definitive guidebook, not only for LGU administrators, but for all public managers and officials who want to make a difference for their country,” said Dr. Alex Brillantes, dean of UP-NCPAG.

The college, as part of University of the Philippines centennial celebration, is releasing the book as one of its Centennial Publications.

By Rina Jimenez-David
Columnist – Philippine Daily Inquirer

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