A veteran turned restaurant manager has just one goal: to raise awareness about the widespread cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among U.S. veterans. And the way he's going about it is nothing short of inspiring.
Eli Smith wants to walk the four corners of the United States to make others aware of the tragic reality that many veterans face after coming back from missions abroad. He's documenting the 13,000-mile mission on social media, and a local CBS affiliate in San Diego was able to report on his story.
On Thursday night, the Oceanside Yacht Club celebrated his efforts by welcoming him to have a meal on them on the night before he carries on with his adventure.
When talking about his effort, his host, Navy mom Laura Danie said she's aware of veteran suicide.
“I think it is important to bring light to it,” she said.
Craig Tannahill, who's with the Yacht Club, told CBS he's happy to help.
“If we can shake his hand and give him a meal, send him on his way, that is what we wanted to do and help him out,” he said.
The inspiration for this journey came to Smith when he learned that, on average, we lose 20 veterans a day. As a veteran, he decided this wasn't a reality he was willing to live with, so he decided to change things himself.
“I lost a few friends to PTSD and suicide,” he said.
“I am just a dude walking around. I'm sad to leave, but I have to keep going,” he added.
During his walks across the country, Smith said that many veterans with suicidal thoughts have reached out to him. Thankfully, many who have made a connection also decided to seek help.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), veterans have a 21 percent higher risk of committing suicide than civilians.
Between 2001 and 2014, the VA reports, suicide rates rose 23.3 percent among civilians but a whopping 32 percent among veterans. What's more concerning is that this trend has really become a problem among female veterans, who saw their suicide rates jump more than 85 percent over the same period.
Despite the lack of wide coverage, Smith began his journey last November in Florida. He has already logged in thousands of trekked miles to reach San Diego.
Hopefully, more people begin talking about his trek and why he is walking. Perhaps then, we will be able to have an honest discussion about the many ongoing wars America continues to fight across the globe.
If you or a loved one is a veteran and you're struggling, you can call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 or send a text message to 838255 to talk to someone who can help, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.