CELINA — A U.S. Army veteran is walking across America as part of a journey he hopes will raise money for fellow veterans in need as well as erase a stigma that is often associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Eric Peters, of Clark, N.J., started his journey to cover more than 3,200 miles on June 20. He was in Celina on Thursday as part of a break in his trek. St. Marys resident Josh Henline opened his home to Peters and the two will embark for Indianapolis on Sunday.
Peters, a member of the 101st Airborne Division, joined the Army in 2011 and got out in October 2013. A recipient of the Purple Heart, Peters said he was diagnosed with PTSD following his discharge.
“I came home and I was having a lot of troubles,” Peters told The Evening Leader. “I wasn’t able to leave the house and I was drinking a lot — basically trying to drink away the sorrows.”
Peters said he has witnessed first hand the scandal that rocked the VA in recent months. Peters said the VA declined him as it relates to his medical conditions associated with his service in the military.
“I was declined of all my disabilities,” Peters said as he rattled off a list of medical conditions. “I got laid off from my job.”
Peters worked in construction building homes and the sound from nail guns often triggered his PTSD.
“A lot of stuff was going on at that time,” Peters said. “I sat at home for about a month or two and I said, ‘You know, I am going to do something no one else has done for veterans with PTSD — how many people have walked across America, raised donations and gave it back to the veterans?”
To help him in his mission, Peters set up a GoFundMe.com page for donations — which will be given to GivenAnHour.org. That nonprofit provides free mental health treatment and services to veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq.
“I am hoping with my donations, they can expand and spread out to help more people,” Peters said.
On his journey, strangers have opened their homes to Peters and provided him with a place to rest, food and donations for his cause. Peters said the outpouring of supports means a lot.
Any miles Peters misses via rides he plans to make up when he gets to California. For those miles, Peters will walk around a track so that he completes his mission — walking the full mileage from New Jersey to California.
“At the end of the day, you finish the mission,” Peters said. “My end of the day, when I reach California, I am going to finish those miles. Then I am going to jump in the ocean.”
PTSD awareness is something Peters said he hopes to bring to the forefront during his mission.
“I want to see change,” Peters said. “I want to see the VA step up and do what their job is. I know they may be having troubles, but everyone has troubles. I think it’s time for the VA to stand up and help the veterans who are going through the ringer ... I’ve met 17 vets with PTSD who are all injured. I have watched them, they are in pain and the VA is not helping them. I have seen the letters of decline, why won’t they help them. The VA says Veteran Affairs. It’s supposed to help veterans get back. They have not been doing that.”
If Peters helps one veteran on his journey, he said it will be worth it.
“I want to raise awareness,” Peters said. “I am a veteran and I have PTSD. I am not a monster or someone who will go rampaging.”
When he returned from the Army, Peters said he did not want to leave his home. He said by sharing his story, he hopes to help veterans open up about their PTSD.
Henline said when the opportunity presented itself to help Peters, he jumped at the chance.
“I decided I was going to walk with him to Indianapolis,” Henline said, noting it is 110 miles to the city. “I am a combat vet myself with PTSD and I figured it was a good cause. I think there are a lot of veterans out there who aren’t getting the help they need.”
Like Peters, Henline said he hopes more people become aware of PTSD.
“I hope that people just understand that we are not like people think we are with PTSD,” Henline said. “We just need help getting through what we have and not to be judged ... There’s a stigma that’s attached to it and it’s still attached. Once people hear a soldier has PTSD they think we are mentally ill or mentally unstable. We’re not. It’s more of an anxiety disorder.”
To follow Peters on his mission, look up “Eric Peters of Clark, New Jersey,” on Facebook, or to make a donation, visit www.gofundme.com/9bsmx4. People can also look up “No Veteran Walks Alone” on Facebook.