Army veteran Eric Peters of New Jersey is walking across the country on a mission to help raise awareness for post-traumatic stress disorder and collect donations to help veterans like himself who have it.
He walked through Akron and Montrose on Tuesday during a trek that started in his hometown of Clark, N.J., four weeks and four days ago. His goal is to walk to Santa Monica, Calif., and he said he should get there in about five or six months.
“I am walking to raise awareness and donations to help veterans who suffer from PTSD and TBI [traumatic brain injury] and are trying to adjust when they come home,” he said. “The world needs to change. No one is helping vets. No one knows what PTSD is. I hear people say veterans are just crazy people when they come out of the military.
“It’s veterans who experience a lot and they come back here and see Sleep Number beds,” as he pointed to the store he was standing in front of on state Route 18. “I didn’t know anything about comfort sleep. I was sleeping on a boat watching bullets fly over, answering to 10 bombs every night. That’s the life veterans had to live in. We are lucky if we can get to sleep.”
The 23-year-old carries an American flag and walks in Army khaki fatigues with a loaded-down backpack with “everything you can imagine” along with his camping gear strapped across his back.
He said he is doing it all by foot to let veterans know that “No Veteran Walks Alone” — the name of his website.
People honked their horns as he waved the flag, while others stopped to ask him what he was doing. One man stopped and offered him food and wanted to take a picture with him to post.
“I don’t have any money, but I do have some extra food here,” said the man, who offered a drink and some McDonald’s.
Peters thanked the man but declined, telling him he had just eaten a full meal at Taco Bell where someone generously bought his lunch.
Peters served in the 101st Airborne Division from 2010 to 2013 and did one tour in Afghanistan.
Peters, who said he suffers from PTSD, said he applied for help through Veterans Affairs, but was turned down.
“I thought if you earned the Purple Heart you were 100 percent guaranteed help, but that isn’t the case.”
He said he is hopeful all the new scrutiny of the VA will help his and other veterans’ claims.
“I’m hoping the VA steps up to do what they are supposed to do, but in the meantime, instead of talking the talk, I’m going to walk the walk,” Peters said.
Walking is very therapeutic, he said.
“I want people to know we are not crazy and we are not monsters,” Peters said. “No one would have liked me before I started walking. I was paranoid, afraid of everything, and didn’t like going outside or talking to anyone. I started drinking a lot.”
He said he has no close family, but he does have support from other veterans who have PTSD, including an Air Force buddy. He wears an Air Force patch next to his Army patch.
He said his biggest fear isn’t roughing it or even the bear that growled at him in Pennsylvania.
“My biggest fear is being alone,” he said.
To support the walk, visit his website at http://www.gofundme.com/9bsmx4.
He said 100 percent of the proceeds will go to Give an Hour, which assists veterans coping with returning home.
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or email@example.com.