By Don Lowe
It has been three years since military veteran Brian Kavanagh passed away as a result of complications from his years of struggling with the effects of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and traumatic brain injury after returning to civilian life following his tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Kavanagh had a vision for helping veterans like himself, so he worked to start VetLinks.org before his passing. Kavanagh’s close childhood friend, Kirk Duncan, along with Kirk’s wife, Becky, are heavily involved in helping this organization thrive today.
“VetLinks.org was a concept originally developed by Brian,” Kirk Duncan says of Kavanagh, who he describes as his “life-long best friend. That’s one aspect of Brian’s personality that made him unique. He was battling his own struggles while in different treatment programs, and he witnessed many veterans with similar problems and decided to try and do something about it.
“Brian envisioned and later outlined the mission and vision for what he saw for VetLinks.org – an organization that could connect veterans to resources in their own communities and help provide options – and outlets – for fellow service members.
“Brian and Jessica, Brian’s wife, laid the framework,” Becky Duncan says. “After his funeral, our group of friends from Pittsburg, Kansas, and surrounding areas felt compelled to see Brian’s vision come to fruition.
“Jessica lives in Baltimore, Maryland, within driving distance to Washington, DC. She’s made ripples through the Veterans Affairs and politics, spotlighting the dire need for veteran, caregiver and family PTS support.”
Kirk Duncan says what makes this initiative so vital is “our nation has been engaged in continuous combat operations in the Middle East and elsewhere for nearly two decades. There have been tens of thousands of veterans and their families who’ve sacrificed so much since 9/11 on behalf of our nation.
“Many of these combat veterans struggle on their return home. The impact of those struggles extends far greater than just with the veteran. The caregivers, children and other family members also suffer when a veteran is affected by PTS, TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and substance abuse.”
Becky Duncan explains, “This is not just a moral imperative. The men and women who voluntarily took up arms to serve our nation deserve our respect, dignity and support. The mental health of our veterans who have experienced events causing PTSD, TBI and related substance-use disorder impacts generations.
“If you have a broken solider, you have a broken family. Spouses and parents of these men and women also suffer a secondary PTS. The mental health of the families of our veterans with PTS is also on the line. Finding effective programs and therapy for everyone affected and coping with PTS is crucial for healing the entire family.”
Kirk Duncan says, “VetLinks.org’s niche is two-part: help post 9/11 combat veterans struggling from the effects of PTS, TBI and substance abuse through traditional and non-traditional treatments such as acupuncture, and focus on an often-forgotten segment of this issue – caregivers and children of veterans.
“To date, we’ve provided a whole range of support to veteran families, from paying for six months of in-patient treatment, to paying rent and utility bills to plane tickets and travel costs for families to visit their veteran. Each veteran need is unique, and we try to be that resource provider and help anyway we can.”
Helping these veterans makes it all worthwhile, and Kirk Duncan says, “It’s rewarding to see how getting our message out, raising funds and reaching out to veterans in need can result in VetLinks.org making a real difference in the lives of veterans, their caregivers and families.”
Kirk & Becky Duncan with
VetLinks.org – Fast Facts
Kirk Duncan Service/Military Career: Originally enlisted in Kansas National Guard as a 13B (“bravo”), field artilleryman. Completed OSUT (one station unit training) at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, summer 1998. Contracted with Army ROTC program/Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, in 1999 and commissioned as infantry officer, May 2001. Active duty since commissioning, served four years as infantry officer before successfully completing Special Forces Assessment and Selection and Special Forces Qualification Course, earning Green Beret/2007. About 18 years of active duty service. Promoted to rank of lieutenant colonel/November 2017 and assigned to U.S. Army Human Resources Command/Fort Knox, Kentucky. Currently serving as special forces branch chief. Previous assignments as Stryker platoon leader and company executive officer in 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team/Fort Lewis, Washington; Operational Detachment-Alpha Detachment Commander in 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne)/Fort Campbell, Kentucky; executive officer of 1st Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne)/Fort Campbell; and Special Forces Company Commander for Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne).
Becky Duncan Service/Military Career: Air Force Reserves (2005-2009) & Tennessee Air National Guard (2009-2013). Served in many leadership roles and left as a staff sergeant (E-5).
Pride of Service: “By far, the personal relationships I developed over the past 18 years are the most rewarding aspect of my service,” says Kirk Duncan. “The men and women in the Army that I’ve been lucky enough to serve alongside continue to make this such a rewarding journey.” Becky Duncan says, “I was the only female in my shop of nearly 60 and felt included, welcomed and often chosen to lead younger airmen through routine maintenance inspections. I reveled in the camaraderie and ethos which felt very unique in comparison to civilian work groups or team sports environments.”
Board of Directors: Jessica Kavanagh – Founder & President of VetLinks.org; Lieutenant Colonel Kirk Duncan, MBA – Military Affairs Director; Becky Duncan – Vice President & Marketing Director; Sara Huerter, Esq. – Veteran Counsel & Legal Director; Katie Swezey – Event Coordinator; John Purcell, MBA – Strategic Growth & Development; Pat McNelly – Operations Director; Joe Fleming – Veteran Assistance Director; Brig. Gen. Donald C. Bolduc – Senior Advisor; Mark Schremmer – Communications Director; and Brian Martin – Market Development.
Our Mission: We believe the value of our society is determined largely by the way we care for those who sacrifice on our behalf. It is, therefore, our responsibility to do what we can to support veterans, their loved ones and their caregivers. VetLinks.org provides personalized, tailored support to individual combat veterans and caregivers suffering from the effects of post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.
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