KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Veterans from across the nation are taking steps to educate the public about post-traumatic stress disorder through a 100-mile hike from Whiteman Air Force Base to Fort Leavenworth.
“This is not an easy task,” said Chad Prichard, Army veteran. “And 100 miles is no joke. I don’t care how you do it.”
The hike is backed by the Semper Fi & America’s Fund, a nonprofit for military members, veterans and their families.
While the needs of veterans are vast, the focus this week is on veterans’ mental health.
“As we wind down from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, we’ve really realized that PTSD is a life-long affliction,” said Jon Lujan, retired Marine and Semper Fi & Americas Fund leader.
The United States Department of Veterans Affairs says service members from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have some of the highest levels of PTSD in veterans.
Twenty-nine percent of people who served in those operations will experience PTSD at some point in their life.
Veterans hiking this week are hoping they pave a path toward understanding their disorder.
“I think it’s really misunderstood because a lot of us veterans really work hard,” Prichard said. “We gave some, and we lost brothers who gave all. And you can’t explain that. The point is that it’s better you come out and ask us these questions, like you are right now, than it is to assume anything.”
Prichard and his service dog Woody call Colorado home, but the streets he walked through Wednesday are where he grew up.
“We’re going to go through all of the areas of town that I know are worth going through,” Prichard said. “I think it’s cool because I’ll be able to show these guys the best version of Kansas City.”
On Thursday, the hike will take the veterans past the National WWI Museum and Memorial.
The veterans participating in this week’s hike want to let other people who are suffering know healing is possible.
“I think it’s hard to ask for help. A lot of veterans, we were all born from the same cloth,” Lujan said. “What branch you are in doesn’t matter. It’s that independent living, that wanting to not ask for help.”
Lujan said the hikers create a strong bond after 100 miles together.
“There’s going to be some tough times. There’s going to be some arguments. There’s going to be pain,” he said. “There’s going to be all kinds of different stuff, but watching them group together is the most healing part of this hike.”
If you would like to donate to the veteran’s hike, click here.