Melissa Jarboe, Founder of the Military Veteran Project creates Military Relations Council for Topeka Chamber of Commerce
Jarboe is on a mission to prevent military suicide with Military Veteran Project
Melissa Jarboe, founder of the Military Veteran Project, has a mentorship relationship with retired U.S. Sen. Bob Dole and influential military leaders such as Lieutenant General William C. Mayville Jr., director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, refers to her “as a force to be reckoned with.” Whether she’s pulling up a chair at a Pentagon meeting or at the bedside of a wounded soldier in a Veterans Administration Hospital, Jarboe is fully present in fulfilling the pledge she made to her dying husband to care for his fellow service members.
Army Staff Sergeant Jamie Jarboe was shot by a sniper in Afghanistan in 2011, an injury that left him paralyzed from the chest down. He eventually succumbed to injuries caused by a surgical procedure that collapsed his trachea. Knowing that he was terminal, he told Jarboe that he was going to use the rest of his life to help Jarboe plan the rest of hers. Following 11 excruciating days in which he slowly suffocated, Jamie died a month shy of his 29th birthday.
“He didn’t want me to return to my corporate executive position and instead wanted me to work to ensure that our military men and women know that they have our support,” Jarboe said.
Having dealt with seven hospitals, including Walter Reed and Johns Hopkins, the Jarboes had become all too familiar with the daunting issues confronting returning veterans—physical limitations, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts, workforce concerns. Since forming the Military Veteran Project in August 2012, Jarboe has traveled to nearly all of the country’s more than 800 VA hospitals and to countless homes to help veterans and their family members with a variety of needs. Last year alone she traveled 200 days.
“Because of my visibility with the military community during my husband’s hospitalizations and national media exposure about my story, people began reaching out to me to provide them with hope and help to move them forward,” she said. “I didn’t have a choice in losing Jamie, but I do have a choice in helping others live. It’s great to help men and women who served our country to realize that people care about them and their well-being and can connect them to resources.”
Growing up in three different foster homes, Jarboe, a Topeka native, had envisioned a different life for herself. Petite and competitive, Jarboe said she had power, money and success at the time Jamie was injured, “but none of that could save the man I loved. It broke me. Everything I’d worked for didn’t mean a thing.”
Today the Military Veteran Project has more than 1,000 volunteers all over the world and all funds are used in an effort to prevent military suicide through research and treatment. To this day, Jarboe takes no salary from her administrative role and 100 percent of the proceeds from her book, “Sacrificed,” available on Amazon, go directly towards the mission.
Jarboe, mother of two daughters, one a sophomore at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and another who is 10, spends full days fielding phone calls from different time zones, facilitating meetings or flying to speaking engagements across the country,
“We live in the land of the free because of the brave,” she said. “I promised my husband he wouldn’t die in vain.”
Personal Invite From President of Topeka Chamber of Commerce, Matt Pivarnek
It is with a deep sense of honor and pride that I extend my personal invitation to you to attend the inaugural gathering of the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce’s new Military Relations Council on Wednesday, October 19, 2016, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Ramada Topeka Downtown Grand Ballroom. The Military Relations Council will raise the level of interaction, mutual awareness, support and appreciation between the military and civilian business communities of Shawnee County and Northeast Kansas, strengthening the relationship between these two vitally important sectors of our community. Our inaugural luncheon will be a special event as we host nationally-renowned veteran and advocate, Michael Schlitz. SFC Schlitz has dedicated his life since retiring from the United States Army to helping our veterans who return from the actual field of combat to find they face an equally insidious enemy here at home in the form of post-traumatic stress injury and, increasingly, thoughts of suicide. SFC Schlitz has distinguished himself anew as a hero and we anticipate that his program will draw and inspire an enthusiastic audience at our inaugural luncheon. You won’t want to miss it. I hope you will make every effort to attend this special event and become part of the Chamber of Commerce’s new program to help Topeka become a community which truly values its military installations as integral parts of the local economy and culture and which is committed to the health and well-being of its active military residents and its veterans.