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Hike strives to prevent veteran suicides

Hiking trail. (Unsplash/Andy Mai)

There are ups and downs after life in the military, and some downs are life-threatening.

For Marine Corps veteran Josh Powell, the transition from military to civilian was one that was difficult as the former Marine suffered from suicidal thoughts, depression and addiction, he said.

Powell, who served four years in the military and completed a tour in Iraq, credits post-traumatic stress disorder as the key cause for the struggling period of his life.

His faith in Christ led him to overcome this battle, he said, and now he aims to raise awareness regarding veterans who wrestle with suicidal thoughts through his new group Project Zero.

Project Zero is made of veterans who have all personally dealt with a form of depression or who’ve had separation problems.

To jumpstart the group’s mission, members will host the first Veteran Suicide Prevention Hike and Veteran Appreciation Cookout Feb. 24.

The 22-mile hike will begin 8:45 a.m. at Moody Road and will conclude at Azalea City Church of God at 6 p.m., Powell said. The cookout will follow at Azalea City.

Before the hike begins, Powell will speak and there will be a memorial for those who’ve lost their fight with PTSD and suicide.

“Let’s come together as a community and help veterans work past these issues,” he said.

He said he believes separation from the military exacerbates the combat experiences of PTSD.

“I think it’s a combination,” he said. “I think it’s partly seeing and doing things that our minds aren’t used to processing, but I also think a lot of it has to do with separating from the military and coming back into the civilian world and not really feeling you’re a part of the world out here.”

He said he dealt with social anxiety and felt a sense of disconnection after returning back to civilian life once discharged.

Class status and racial makeup are separating factors that do not exist in the military, Powell said.

“All of those demographics that we’re used to out here in the real world doesn’t matter in there because you’re all going through the same thing,” he said. “You don’t see all of the division that you see out here. You don’t see the chaos.”

He said it didn’t matter if he grew up poor and the person beside him grew up rich because they were “in the same world together and (were) dealing with the same things.”

Veterans feel a loss of trust in the civilian world, said Shawn Eikenberry, event coordinator, which is another reason why the likelihood of suicide is high for veterans in the first three years post-military.

“When everything has been structured, and you know you can trust the person beside you, and (then) you get out, and you don’t know who to trust,” he said.

Eikenberry served 23 years in the Air Force and also said he believes adjustment is complex for veterans.

“When I came back from Afghanistan, my wife had told me that I (wasn’t) the same,” he said.

Though Eikenberry said he didn’t have suicidal thoughts or hadn’t been formally diagnosed with PTSD, the former airman said he wouldn’t have been able to transition without the support of his wife, Melissa.

“A lot of veterans, when they come home, they don’t have somebody who they can talk to, who understands what they’re going through,” he said.

He said his wife served in the Army.

“Everybody is affected different,” he said.

Eikenberry said spiritual and physical balance are important, and veterans should not be fearful to ask for help.

“I think that’s the biggest thing,” he said. “There are organizations out there to help. Veterans just need to go to them.”

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© 2018 The Valdosta Daily Times (Valdosta, Ga.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.