Veterans come together to combat PTSD
Published 10:55 am Friday, September 11, 2015
Army Veteran George Eshleman, of Cartersville, Georgia set out on an unsupported through hike southbound on the Appalachian Trail on Sep. 7 to bring awareness to his new foundation 2189 for PTSD, which seeks to get veterans hiking to help manage symptoms of post-traumatic stress and to establish an active support system between veterans who share similar experiences.
Eshleman, who is the foundation director, and Navy veteran Shane Robinson, of Elizabethton, were stationed in the same area from 1989-1995 but never knew each other. They connected through the foundation and are now close friends, working together to help encourage other veterans with PTSD to hike.
“Our goal is to get soldiers out in the woods, together with other soldiers that have the same issues they have and just get out and away for a little while,” said Robinson.
The foundation’s goal is to get five veterans per hike on six trails across the country in 12 sections.
Robinson and Eshleman said they, and other veterans like them, have found hiking and being in the woods therapeutic and more effective than taking anxiety medications. For this reason, they are locally and nationally promoting the foundation’s cause.
“What we want to do is bring soldiers back together with their brothers-in-arms,” said Eshleman. “We’ve defended each other in combat and loved each other like family. There’s no reason we can’t be helping each other outside of combat. We want to bring soldiers out in the field here, where they can hike with us at no cost to them.”
Through promotion and a GoFundMe account, Eshelman and volunteers are raising money for equipment including Osprey backpacks, trekking poles, New Balance 790 shoes and other supplies to get veterans equipped to go section hiking.
“Every foundation starts small, but bringing people together cuts the cost down and shows support for the soldiers and the community and the families that are going through this, it’s not just the soldiers,” he said. “Military family is some of the strongest people on this earth. They watch out for the soldiers that put their lives in danger. We’re soldiers and we don’t give up.”
So far, the foundation has raised $1,305 of its goal of $9,000.
Eshleman took on the challenge of breaking the unsupported through hike record of 58 days, nine hours and 38 minutes because it was the mission of a veteran friend of his, who committed suicide not long before he would have set out on the trek.
Calculating the number of veterans suffering from PTSD is difficult because an estimated 50 percent do not seek treatment. In Operations Iraqi Freedom and Eduring Freedom, 11 to 20 percent of veterans who served now suffer PTSD. In the Gulf War, 12 percent of veterans returned with PTSD. Fifteen percent of veterans who served in the Vietnam War have PTSD, but an estimated 30 percent will have it in their lifetimes, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
According to a study by Congressional Research Service, between 1990 and 2014 in Tennessee, 4,200 veterans committed suicide, an average of 300 per year. The percentages of those suffering trend at an increase with age, as more and more veterans report symptoms. According to the study, more than 69 percent of veteran suicides were among those aged 50 years and older.
Symptoms include reliving of traumatic events as if they were happening again, avoiding places or people that remind a person of the event, a feeling of hopelessness or depression and a constant sense of danger and feeling the need to be on their guard.
According to the Suicide Data Report conducted by Veterans Affairs in 2012, based on information from 21 states, an estimated 22 veterans committed suicide daily in 2010, consistent with the average of 20 per day between 1990 and 2014.
PTSD does not simply fade away for those suffering, or for their loved ones, which is why Robinson and Eshleman believe it is so important to show veterans a way to relax and find peace, by hiking.
“This trek is not for notoriety, but for every soldier who dreams of leaving the battlefield and having an outlet for help. My goal is to create section hikes of this historic trail and invite soldiers to undertake the hike at no cost to them.”
Unfortunately, despite rigorous training, Eshleman tore ligaments in his knee on Wednesday, Sep. 9 and had to return home, but he intends to begin the trail again in March with Robinson and veterans of each branch of the military.
To donate or for more information on 2189 for PTSD, visit gofundme.com/2189milesforptsd.