After a 750-mile walk across New York, a veteran and his mission are still going strong
By JEAN-PAUL SALAMANCA | Newsday | Published: June 2, 2019
MASSAPEQUA, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — Vietnam War veteran Frank Romeo, nearing the end of his 750-mile journey across New York State, said he was anything but tired as he continued his campaign to raise awareness for war veterans struggling with PTSD.
"I'm psyched. I'm so psyched," said Romeo, 70, of Bay Shore, after he finished his one-mile walk Saturday in Massapequa with more than 100 people, including veterans and elected officials, as part of his "Walk With Frank" campaign raising awareness for veterans' mental health.
Romeo, waving and holding a large American flag, walked with others, including Assemb. Mike LiPetri (R-Massapequa), from the Massapequa LIRR train station, at Broadway and Veterans Boulevard, to the American Veterans Post 88 building on Broadway. People along the street cheered as they passed by.
The veterans post donated $1,000 to Romeo's nonprofit campaign in a ceremony outside their building after the walk.
Romeo, who has been shooting a documentary during his statewide walk, interviewing homeless veterans while staying at homeless shelters, said he's heard many stories from them. One homeless vet he encountered upstate had given Romeo one of his last two dollars after they walked and talked together.
"That gentleman collecting cans gave me half of everything he owns in the world," Romeo said. "How do you even put that into words?"
Romeo's journey began in Buffalo in March. Ultimately, he said, he hopes his campaign can show veterans it's possible to break down the stigma around PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
"Let's talk about it openly. There's no need to whisper it anymore. We are in a mental health crisis in this country and so are our veterans," he said.
Leonard E. Scheiner, commander of American Veterans Post 88, said his post originally planned to commemorate Romeo's arrival with a small, quiet gathering. However, that changed after Scheiner said his post was swamped with phone calls from people who had heard Romeo was coming.
Scheiner, who struggled with PTSD after he returned from a tour in Vietnam, said while local help for veterans dealing with the disorder had improved over time, it was still important for those dealing with such trauma to admit they need help to overcome it.
"There are many more veterans that suffer from this disease that don't want to admit it because they're afraid," Scheiner said. "They don't have to be ashamed. Go to a hospital. Get help. Your family and your friends will thank you for it."
Romeo will make his final stop on his campaign at noon on June 8 at the veterans memorial off Montauk Highway in Bay Shore.