PTSD kills more than 25 veterans a day. This new memorial is for them.

Jeremy Coombs died tragically at the age of 28.

Jeremy did two tours in Iraq, as an Army infantryman in 2005 and then as a helicopter repairman in 2007, and was later stationed in Honduras in 2009. Over the course of his military career, he received multiple campaign stars and medals, including three Army commendation medals for acts of valor.

Jeremy was a hero. But that fact alone was not enough to free him from the darkness that followed him home from the service. He took to alcohol to drown out the demons of post-traumatic stress disorder and kept drinking until his kidneys and liver failed.


Jeremy didn't die in the line of duty. But he is still a casualty of war.


Jeremy Coombs in 2006. Photo provided by Amy Blaisdell, used with permission.

According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, 22 veterans kill themselves every day.

And yet, the stories of people like Jeremy are often still ignored.

Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States, and veterans are more than twice as likely as other citizens to die from self-inflicted harm. But society in general isn't great at talking about suicide, and that stigma can be even more difficult in a military atmosphere where weakness is traditionally shunned.

"The military families who lost their loved one under these circumstances can be made to feel as though their loved one's death didn't matter as much or that they weren't actually true heroes," said Jeremy's younger sister, Amy Blaisdell.

She remembered a time when her parents were invited on a Gold Star military cruise for surviving family members — only to be unceremoniously disinvited at the last minute because their son did not die "in service to the nation," according to the military's definition.

Photo by SrA Daniel Hughes/Department of Defense/Wikimedia Commons.

But now, thanks to a planned PTSD monument, veterans like Jeremy will finally get the recognition they deserve for the sacrifices they made on and off the battlefield.

Created by K9s for Veteran Warriors, a support group that provides service dogs to aid veterans who are struggling with PTSD, the new Forgotten Warrior Memorial Wall at Channahon State Park in Illinois will commemorate the struggles of those who bravely served their nation and died in the fight against PTSD.

“This one-of-a-kind memorial will provide a place for family members, other veterans, and the public to honor those service men and women whose injuries, while perhaps not physically apparent, were no less devastating,” Channahon Mayor Missey Moorman Schumacher said in a press release.

The $80,000 project is scheduled to open to the public in November 2016. Families can pay tribute to their loved ones with personalized memorial bricks, which provide structural and financial support for the monument.

An artist rendering of the Forgotten Warrior Memorial Wall, via Manny du Mont/YouTube.

Blaisdell believes the monument will make a big difference for veterans dealing with PTSD — and for families like hers who are still hurting.

"The PTSD memorial brings awareness to exactly how many people in the military struggle so much that they take their own lives," she said. "Jeremy has three children. I never want them to think that his death is any less important because he suffered from a mental illness. I want them to know that he is still a hero and sacrificed so much for them and his country."

Nena Boling-Smith, an Air Force veteran and licensed social worker who specializes in helping those who are not eligible for VA assistance, agrees. "Anything that creates or expands the discussion of mental health and the effects of suicide on service members and families is good," she said. "The military has a long way to go when it comes to decreasing mental health stigma, and families coming together to do that is a great start."

Photo by Staff Sergeant Charity Barrett/U.S. Air Force/Wikimedia Commons.

By acknowledging these internal struggles, the Forgotten Warrior Memorial Wall can help families heal from the past — and pave the way for better veteran mental health care in the future.

"Military members are our relatives, our neighbors, our family and we have to take a community approach and responsibility to not only prevent suicide, but create access to treatment and understanding," Boling-Smith said. "Veterans are unique in their background, history, and reason for joining the military."

Mental health in general is still a complicated issue. And a monument alone won't change that.

But by bringing visibility to hidden struggles, we can start a conversation and make it easier for people to ask for help — and sometimes, that's a crucial step that can make all the difference.

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan
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Growing up in Indonesia, Farwiza Farhan always loved the ocean. It's why she decided to study marine biology. But the more she learned, the more she realized that it wasn't enough to work in the ocean. She needed to protect it.

"I see the ocean ecosystem collapsing due to overfishing and climate change," she says. "I felt powerless and didn't know what to do [so] I decided to pursue my master's in environmental management."

This choice led her to work in environmental protection, and it was fate that brought her back home to the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia — one of the last places on earth where species such as tigers, orangutans, elephants and Sumatran rhinoceros still live in the wild today. It's also home to over 300 species of birds, eight of which are endemic to the region.

"When I first flew over the Leuser Ecosystem, I saw an intact landscape, a contiguous block of lush, diverse vegetation stretched through hills and valleys. The Leuser is truly a majestic landscape — one of a kind."

She fell in love. "I had my first orangutan encounter in the Leuser Ecosystem," she remembers. "As the baby orangutan swung from the branches, seemingly playing and having fun, the mother was observing us. I was moved by the experience."

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

"Over the years," she continues, "the encounters with wildlife, with people, and with the ecosystem itself compounded. My curiosity and interest towards nature have turned into a deep desire to protect this biodiversity."

So, she began working for a government agency tasked to protect it. After the agency dismantled for political reasons in the country, Farhan decided to create the HAkA Foundation.

"The goals [of HAkA] are to protect, conserve and restore the Leuser Ecosystem while at the same time catalyzing and enabling just economic prosperity for the region," she says.

"Wild areas and wild places are rare these days," she continues. "We think gold and diamonds are rare and therefore valuable assets, but wild places and forests, like the Leuser Ecosystems, are the kind of natural assets that essentially provide us with life-sustaining services."

"The rivers that flow through the forest of the Leuser Ecosystem are not too dissimilar to the blood that flows through our veins. It might sound extreme, but tell me — can anyone live without water?"

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

So far, HAkA has done a lot of work to protect the region. The organization played a key role in strengthening laws that bring the palm oil companies that burn forests to justice. In fact, their involvement led to an unprecedented, first-of-its-kind court decision that fined one company close to $26 million.

In addition, HAkA helped thwart destructive infrastructure plans that would have damaged critical habitat for the Sumatran elephants and rhinos. They're working to prevent mining destruction by helping communities develop alternative livelihoods that don't damage the forests. They've also trained hundreds of police and government rangers to monitor deforestation, helping to establish the first women ranger teams in the region.

"We have supported multiple villages to create local regulation on river and land protection, effectively empowering communities to regain ownership over their environment."

She is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year. The donation she receives as a nominee is being awarded to the Ecosystem Impact Foundation. The small local foundation is working to protect some of the last remaining habitats of the critically endangered leatherback turtle that lives on the west coast of Sumatra.

"The funds will help the organization keep their ranger employed so they can continue protecting the islands, endangered birds and sea turtle habitats," she says.

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen. Do you know an inspiring woman like Farwiza? Nominate her today!

Jennifer Lawrence

After being a Hollywood staple, Jennifer Lawrence vanished from the public eye following the release of "X-Men Dark Phoenix" in 2019.

Sure, the pandemic had something to do with that … in addition to the usual way our society treats Hollywood "it" girls, once it grows accustomed to the flavor. But in a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Lawrence opens up about some other reasons she chose to step away for a time.

Lawrence went from being a highly sought-after Oscar-winning actress to starring in less-than-successful films like "Passengers," "Mother!" and "Red Sparrow." The films were not only poorly received among critics, but commercially as well.

"I was not pumping out the quality that I should have," she told VF. "I just think everybody had gotten sick of me. I'd gotten sick of me. It had just gotten to a point where I couldn't do anything right. If I walked a red carpet, it was, 'Why didn't she run?'"

So then, why do it? As any workaholic would know, it's about so much more than money.

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Courtesy of Ms. Lopez
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Marcella Lopez didn't always want to be a teacher — but once she became one, she found her passion. That's why she's stayed in the profession for 23 years, spending the past 16 at her current school in Los Angeles, where she mostly teaches children of color.

"I wanted purpose, to give back, to live a life of public service, to light the spark in others to think critically and to be kind human beings," she says. "More importantly, I wanted my students to see themselves when they saw me, to believe they could do it too."

Ms. Lopez didn't encounter a teacher of color until college. "That moment was life-changing for me," she recalls. "It was the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin as a student. Always remembering how I felt in that college class many years ago has kept me grounded year after year."

It's also guided her teaching. Ms. Lopez says she always selects authors and characters that represent her students and celebrate other ethnicities so students can relate to what they read while also learning about other cultures.

"I want them to see themselves in the books they read, respect those that may not look like them and realize they may have lots in common with [other cultures] they read about," she says.

She also wants her students to have a different experience in school than she did.

When Ms. Lopez was in first grade, she "was speaking in Spanish to a new student, showing her where the restroom was when a staff member overheard our conversation and directed me to not speak in Spanish," she recalls. "In 'this school,' we only speak English," she remembers them saying. "From that day forward, I was made to feel less-than and embarrassed to speak the language of my family, my ancestors; the language I learned to speak first."

Part of her job, she says, is to find new ways to promote acceptance and inclusion in her classroom.

"The worldwide movement around social justice following the death of George Floyd amplified my duty as a teacher to learn how to discuss racial equity in a way that made sense to my little learners," she says. "It ignited me to help them see themselves in a positive light, to make our classroom family feel more inclusive, and make our classroom a safe place to have authentic conversations."

One way she did that was by raising money through DonorsChoose to purchase books and other materials for her classroom that feature diverse perspectives.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

The Allstate Foundation recently partnered with DonorsChoose to create a Racial Justice and Representation category to encourage teachers like Ms. Lopez to create projects that address racial equity in the classroom. To launch the category, The Allstate Foundation matched all donations to these projects for a total of $1.5 million. Together, they hope to drive awareness and funding to projects that bring diversity, inclusion, and identity-affirming learning materials into classrooms across the country. You can see current projects seeking funding here.

When Ms. Lopez wanted to incorporate inclusive coloring books into her lesson plans, The Allstate Foundation fully funded her project so she was able to purchase them.

"I'm a lifelong learner, striving to be my best version of myself and always working to inspire my little learners to do the same," she says. Each week, Ms. Lopez and the students would focus on a page in the book and discuss its message. And she plans to do the same again this school year.

"DonorsChoose has been a gamechanger for my students. Without the support of all the donors that come together on this platform, we wouldn't have a sliver of what I've been able to provide for my students, especially during the pandemic," she says.

"My passion is to continue striving to be excellent, and to continue to find ways to use literature as an anchor, depicting images that reflect my students," she says.

To help teachers like Ms. Lopez drive this important mission forward, donate on DonorsChoose.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

Looking for some good gift ideas that wont break the bank? We've got you covered with these five suggestions available at our very own Upworthy Market! You can feel good about your purchases, too. That's because every item you buy from the Upworthy Market directly supports the artisans who crafted it.


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Photo by Vanessa Garcia from Pexels

A professor's message to students has gone viral.

If you know any teachers, you probably know how utterly exhausted they all are, from preschools all the way up through college. Pandemic schooling has been rough, to say the least, and teachers have borne the brunt of the impact it's had on students.

Most teachers I've known have bent over backwards to help students succeed during this time, taking kids' mental and emotional health into consideration and extending the flexibility and grace we all could use. But teachers have their own mental and emotional needs, too, and at some point, something's gotta give.

A college student posted screenshots of a professor's message on Twitter with the comment "someone PLEASE check on my professor." It's simply incredible.

The message reads:

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