With all of the unfortunate news about scandals and possible deaths related to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, good news seems to get lost in the mainstream media. With this in mind, it seems appropriate to distribute good news about veterans when it is found.
This series highlights eight veterans who have either walked or ran to raise awareness of issues important to their fellow veterans.
Anthony Anderson and Tom Voss
Anderson and Voss decided to walk 2400 mile from Wisconsin to California to raise awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in veterans as well as raise money for charities that support its treatment. Chuck Palazzo, a Vietnam Veteran, has written “The disease is insidious”, something with which most veterans would agree.
Anthony Anderson was a sergeant in the Wisconsin Army National Guard from 2002-2008 and served served two tours in Iraq.
Tom Voss was a specialist who served as a scout sniper in the U.S. Army from 2003 to 2006. He participated in hundreds of combat missions that included convoys, security patrols and various raids.
Both Wisconsin veterans suffered the trauma of war including anxiety and PTSD. Their symptoms were accompanied by the “isolation of knowing their loved ones cannot possibly fathom the experience that consumed half a decade of their lives.”
Anderson revealed, “I couldn’t sleep; the only thing I could do to sleep was drink. The problem wasn’t flashback dreams. It was déjà vu. I would be back in Iraq in places and scenes where I’d been, but my dad or wife would be there with me, and we’d sort of have a conversation, like I’d say, ‘What are you doing here?’ And then I’d wake up.”
Much of Voss’ anguish came after he had returned home from the battlefield and being confronted with the suicides of his fellow soldiers who fought alongside him in Iraq. The deaths from suicide were devastating to him and were found to be interrelated with his PTSD.
The two men decided that a long trek would enable them to “reflect on their war experiences, to cope with PTSD and to help them reintegrate into their civilian lives.”
On August 20, 2013, both veterans began a 2,400-mile trek from Milwaukee, Wis. to Los Angeles, Calif. to raise PTSD awareness since they both had been diagnosed with PTSD, Anderson in 2006; Voss in 2008.
Why Los Angeles? Anderson said, “because it is the farthest major city away from Milwaukee”. Their goal was to raise $100,000 for Dryhootch a nonprofit organization that helps veterans and their families with a variety of reintegration issues, including PTSD, drug/alcohol addiction, and family support.
Their journey took about five months arriving at the Santa Monica Pier just outside of Los Angeles, Calif. Anderson revealed they left for home two days later, spending five days driving for the most part, on the same route home they walked. A welcome home party was held for them on Feb. 15, at the Milwaukee County War Memorial.
Anderson and Voss are continuing their efforts to help their fellow veterans by founding Veterans Trek, which “provides peer to peer, Veteran-led treks for Veterans seeking time, healing, and camaraderie as an antidote for isolation, confusion, anger, and the myriad issues impacting a Veteran’s life.” Their treks have been designed to be without cost for each participant and are “led by Veteran peers who have struggled with the same issues as the participants.“
Kate MacEachern is someone who is not in the U.S. military and is a perfect example that PTSD is not alway a results of an injury that occurred in a war zone.
Cpl. MacEachern was a tank driver at the Armour School at CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick, Canada. Unfortunately, she was thrown from a horse during a training exercise and suffered a serious injury resulting in her acquiring “non-combat PTSD”. In describing her injury, she said, “I had spinal cord [injury] and quite a significant head injury and spent quite an amount of time in the hospital recovering.”
In an effort to raise awareness about PTSD other mental injuries, MacEachern walked 316.8 miles (about 500 km.) in 2012 from her base in New Brunswick to her hometown in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. She averaged about 24 miles (40 km.) per day while wearing her camouflage combat uniform, helmet and backpack. Her trek allowed her to raise $20,000 for Soldier On, a military charity which helps soldiers recover from their injuries.
Things went south for MacEachern the next year. Despite her receiving accolades from her superiors as well as the Canadian Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay, the Canadian military denied her request for permission to perform another walk in 2013. Her superiors said they could not find a replacement for her during the expected 45 days leave she needed for her trek.
In an interview with CTV News, MacEachern reported, “When I asked permission this year, I had a feeling that I wasn’t actually going to get it. I already knew that if it came back as a no, I was ending my career.” Yes, she quit after her seven years of service in the military to work towards something she considered to be a higher calling.
MacEachern has continued her mission to raise money for charities that serve veterans. In 2013, she walked from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, to Ottawa about 1100 miles (1800 km.) to raise money for Military Minds. Military minds is an organization created for veterans facing “the stressors of returning home from war.”
This year, MacEachern decided not to make a trek in order to spend time with her son. However, she has already made plans to walk next year from Thunder Bay, Ontario, to Chilliwack, British Columbia, about 1900 miles (3000 km.). The planned trek will begin on May 1 and end about August 1, 2015, a walk where she will average about 21 miles (34 km.) per day.
MacEachern established The Long Way Home, a site that is dedicated to her “physical journey and life mission. To raise awareness for those surviving their journey through PTSD.”
We veterans salute Anthony Anderson, Tom Voss and Kate MacEachern who have walked almost 4000 miles to date in order to raise money for charities that support veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other wartime injuries.
Note: The following articles will continue this discussion of veterans walking or running for veterans issues:
Part 2: Suicide awareness and prevention
Part 3: Marine Cpl. Tahmooressi who is being held in a Mexican prison