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Marine veteran walking across America shares PTSD message

By KAREN MICHAEL | Lubbock (Texas) Avalanche-Journal (Tribune News Service) | Published: December 2, 2015

About 40 people came to hear from a Marine veteran walking 5,000 miles across the United States to share a message of how post-traumatic stress disorder affects veterans.

Speaking in the Texas Tech Student Union Building on Tuesday afternoon, Ryan Weldon said it was last December when he learned that 22 veterans a day commit suicide as a result of PTSD.

That statistic may even be too low, he said, as it is only the suicides that are reported to and by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Realizing that 22 vets a day was almost one former soldier per hour, he decided to do something to raise awareness of the problem.

He sold everything he owned and quit his jobs. In February, he left Delaware on foot, planning to walk across the U.S. until he reaches San Francisco.

Weldon, who served in the Marines from 1999-2003, said he wants veterans to know they are not alone, and they don’t have to be alone, while educating others on PTSD. When he encounters veterans who are struggling, he said he gives them his number and tells them he is there to take their call, day or night.

“I’m walking across the U.S. I’ve got nothing but time,” he said.

He said it’s not a good idea to try to force a veteran to talk about his experiences. Instead, Weldon said he advises people to let veterans know that you are ready to listen if they need to talk.

Admitting that you are hurt, and that you have a problem is a problem for former soldiers, Weldon said. “It takes more courage to admit there is a problem,” he said.

Weldon also pointed out that first responders can also suffer from PTSD, as well as children who have been abused.

Lubbock vets react

Todd Truesdell, a Marine veteran at the event at the Tech SUB, said he has also struggled with PTSD.

“It helps to know there are guys struggling with the same thing,” Truesdell said.

He asked that everyone at the event take to social media to share what Weldon is doing to spread awareness of PTSD.

“It’s all of our job to raise awareness,” Truesdell said.

Loren Gish, a cadet in the Texas Tech Army ROTC program, said he really appreciated that Tech’s Military and Veterans Programs brought Weldon onto campus during his journey across America.

“Having deployed to Iraq myself, I really appreciate the fact that a guy like this is trying to reach out and bring awareness to the struggles, not only for Iraq but all of the military conflicts that we’ve gone through, and the consequences of our soldiers being in combat situations,” Gish said.

Gish said he considers himself fortunate that he never got into a situation that would have caused him to have PTSD.

The U.S. on foot

Traveling across the U.S. has benefits. Weldon said he’s really enjoyed seeing the U.S. on foot and meeting veterans and concerned people along the way.

He loves Texas and said he will probably come back someday. But for now, he’s ready to leave. “Texas is big. I’ve been walking in Texas for months, and I’m ready to get out of Texas, no offense.”

His next city to stop through will be Clovis, New Mexico, but he said he could possibly stop between towns and camp on the side of a road on the way there, averaging about 25 miles a day on his walks.

He feels like his message is getting out, but added that it’s a daily challenge because he gets 15 to 20 questions a day on what PTSD is.

Although he hopes to make it to San Francisco by February, he said his journey will never end.

“I will never stop advocating for suicide prevention and awareness of PTSD,” Weldon said. “I will probably, hopefully, start a non-profit of my own, hopefully to try to raise money for treatment and diagnosing and really just never give up until that number of 22 is zero.”

karen.michael@lubbockonline.com

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Follow Karen on Twitter - @AJkarenmichael

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©2015 the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (Lubbock, Texas)
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