Vets walk across US to draw attention to mental health fight
NEW YORK (AP) — Six American and British veterans who walked across the U.S. to raise awareness about mental health problems related to combat service finished their trip Thursday in New York City, where they were met by former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill.
The group visited the national Sept. 11 memorial at the World Trade Center and then finished their trip a few blocks away, at a garden that memorializes British victims of the 2001 terror attacks.
Walking 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) from Los Angeles to New York City was easy, members of the group said, compared to the struggle of living with mental wounds related to military service.
One of the marchers once attempted suicide. Another struggled with painkillers and alcohol after operations for combat wounds. Several said they are living with post-traumatic stress disorder and the guilt of survival after seeing comrades die in combat.
Three of the veterans came from the U.K. to join the Americans on the tour, which raised money for support groups and encouraged veterans to speak up about psychological challenges and get help, rather than suffer alone.
“All of us, while we’re on this journey, have had somebody close commit suicide,” said Larry Hinkle, who served with the U.S. Marines in the Gulf of Aiden, Afghanistan and Iraq. “I just had my fifth or sixth friend commit suicide a couple weeks ago.”
Another of the walking veterans, Adele Loar, said she served with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations in Afghanistan and Iraq and suffered from a brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder after a deadly attack on her vehicle.
Speaking to a small crowd at the conclusion of the walk, which began June 2, Joe Biden said hundreds of thousands of servicemen and servicewomen come home from combat with “scars you cannot see, post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, and all because they’re taught to be warriors, all told, all taught, they should not reveal the psychological problems they’re having.”
Jill Biden, who sponsored the walk and tour, which was organized by Walking with the Wounded, a British charity, said that after her late son, Beau, returned from a deployment to Iraq in 2008 with the Delaware Army National Guard, he told her, “Mom, the one thing you have to work on is mental health.”
Earlier this year, a congressionally mandated report found that half of veterans who may need mental health care don’t receive any treatment. Many don’t know how to access the services.
“They’re saving lives by this walk,” Joe Biden said. “Every city they went into, you can be certain as they walked there’s a wounded warrior looking who is suffering and thinking, ‘If they can do this and let the whole world see it, maybe I should come forward and say I need help.’”