Connect Savannah

A different kind of battle

'Fight the War Within' aims to help vets struggling with mental health issues

Leila Scott Nov 19, 2020 8:00 AM

GARRETT BRIGGS WAS an Army Ranger stationed in Savannah, at the 175th Ranger Regiment. After he left the Army in 2016, he worked at Nine Line Apparel. But his transition back into civilian life and work proved difficult.

While he sought help with his mental health struggles, ultimately he was unable to find the peace he sought. In January 2018, two weeks after his wife, Miranda Briggs, gave birth to their daughter, Essex, he ended his life in their home.

“It came out of left field because Garrett had been seeking help,” Briggs said. “But we have learned so much through his death and through his medical records of how long he had been waiting on medication to arrive, how he had voiced to providers without being heard, and just really how much he was suffering.”

The tragic death of Garrett Briggs changed the course of their family’s life forever, but his story lives on.

“I want to promise this to our daughter: his life is going to outlive his last breath,” Briggs said. “I want our daughter to know that her dad is a hero for his service to our nation and his sacrifice for our country.”

Garrett Briggs’ death ultimately inspired his wife to found “Fight the War Within” – a 100% volunteer-based nonprofit in Savannah that provides mental health resources for veterans, first responders and more. Although the group began operating in the thick of the pandemic, the organization used the power of social media to connect and build a community.

Briggs said she wants to cultivate a community that discusses and assists mental health for all walks of life.

“Historically, the numbers have been 22 veterans and service members ending their lives each day,” Miranda said. “Now some studies are showing we’re up to almost 30 a day because of isolation. So a lot of what we’re doing in the community here in Savannah is trying to create events where veterans and their families can get out and be around other people and find their place in a community.”

With COVID-19 precautions in mind, the organization plans to hold several events before the year is up. They are fully funding and serving Thanksgiving dinner to 100 veterans and their family members at the Elks Lodge in Savannah from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Due to the pandemic, travel restrictions will keep many veterans from spending holidays with their family, so support during this time is essential, Briggs said.

In addition, the Fight the War Within group is offering suicide prevention courses through Armed Forces Mission. The Intervening Challenge is a three-hour course that teaches loved ones how to approach and talk about mental health.

It will be held at Georgia Southern University on Dec. 5 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The foundation is sponsoring 100% of the event and has 100 prepaid booklets. Georgia Southern is donating their auditorium, and due to COVID-19, only 38 participants will be allowed in at a time. However, they also plan to offer a virtual option which will allow 20 people onto Zoom.

“It’s a huge myth that by asking that you’re putting that thought into somebody’s head or you’re going to make it worse when in reality science shows that by talking about difficult things the human mind can process it and get it out of your system,” Briggs said.

They plan to offer these courses every few months, and their goal is to get as many people trained in the Savannah area as possible, so there are fewer crisis situations.

At some point, Briggs hopes there will be conversations about peer support for veterans, and active-duty members could evolve into a Quick Response Program.