Navy veteran walking hundreds of miles and raising awareness about veteran mental health
Panama City Beach, Florida. – When joggers and hikers pass David Bulger and Justin Moore, they often do a double take.
They see two men without socks or shoes walking the trails at Panama City Beach Conservation Park, Florida.
“We’re walking 22 miles,” Bulger told Fox News, proudly showing the dirt and scuffs on his feet.
But it’s not just 22 miles. It was 22 miles a day, every day, for the 22 days leading up to Memorial Day.
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The number “22” comes from a Department of Veterans Affairs Report Nine Years Ago estimated that 22 U.S. veterans commit suicide every day. (The latest report drops that number to around 17).
Twenty-two miles a day for 22 days equals nearly 500 miles of walking for Bulger and Moore, who hope to raise awareness of the mental health issues facing veterans, especially those who have served in combat.
For Bulger, who served in the Navy aboard the USS New York, it’s personal. He saw first-hand the psychological toll of military service.
“The transition is never easy, especially for the person who had the perfect career while she was,” Bulger said. “So 100 percent of veterans could use help.”
At one point Bulger had mental health issues after leaving the service, so he started walking three years ago to draw attention to the issue. He has his own Facebook page called “Barefoot 22” to help increase support.
“Why do the strongest men and women in the world’s most powerful fighting force have some of the highest suicide rates?” Bulger asked.
His friend, Moore, is not a veteran. But when Bulger shared some of his personal stories and the startling suicide figures, he felt compelled to lend a helping hand.
Mental health is “the problem of our generation,” Moore told Fox News. “David asks me every day if I’m going out on the trails, and I’m like, ‘Yeah, man, I’ll be there for 22 days.'”
The Department of Veterans Affairs began actively tracking the number of veteran suicides per year in 2005. Although numbers for 2019 and 2020 are not yet final, the 2005-2018 total is over 80,000.
By comparison, the Defense Ministry Loss Report shows that approximately 7,000 American soldiers have given their lives for their country since 2001.
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The total number of suicides in the military also increased in 2020 compared to 2019. Last year, 377 active duty members were killed, as were 194 in the reserves and 118 in the National Guard.
“It’s a big deal,” Dr. Matthew A. Miller, national director of AV suicide prevention, told Fox News. “It’s a big problem for the veteran population, it’s a big problem for the American population, and in most parts of the world, it’s a big problem.”
The causes, according to Miller, vary from case to case. For some veterans, the transition to civilian life is difficult. For others, PTSD and horrific combat experiences play a big role. Other contributing factors can include issues such as financial problems and drug addiction.
But Miller also sees more nuanced causes. There is a “hero” syndrome, he said, in which some returning veterans feel they should be able to adjust to life normally and take on whatever challenges they face. life throws at them. When this veteran is struggling, he or she often feels like a failure.
“They believe that there is something wrong with them and that they must be X, Y, and Z, but they feel A, B and C inside,” Miller said. “It can perpetuate stigma, isolation and not seeking help.
“Some of the best things we can do for veteran mental health are, on the one hand, be extremely grateful and admire service and skill, while leaving room to be human like the rest of us ‘between us.”
Miller pointed out that counseling and support groups work and can help prevent suicide.
“Suicide is preventable, it is not inevitable,” he said. “We know with suicide that the thoughts, the intention, the planning… it’s usually a pretty dark and brief time. And reaching out during that brief, dark time instead of going it alone saves lives. “
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Bulger said there was a time when he himself considered committing suicide. What he has found that works for him is getting back to nature, taking off his shoes and feeling the earth beneath his feet – literally.
That’s why he and Moore will continue to walk throughout Memorial Day. Every 22 miles, every 22 days.
“The concept, I believe, of Memorial Day is to remember those we’ve lost, not just those in battle, but in all other ways. Including their own hands,” Bulger said. “What I think people we remember would like us to think about [those] who still remain, who will continue to live this. “