EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Military veterans are taking steps to destigmatize mental health across the country — 1,800 miles and counting.
Veterans John Ring and Jimmy Matthews are walking across the country to meet with communities to advocate for increased awareness of veterans’ issues. Ring and Matthews are in El Paso as part of Buddy Watch Incorporated, an organization that focuses on the need to shelter veterans and works to educate the public on veterans’ issues such as homelessness, PTSD and suicide prevention.
As of January 2019, more than 37,000 veterans were homeless in the United States. Risk factors for homelessness in veterans includes PTSD, traumatic brain injury, sexual abuse, and more.
According to the 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, veterans made up 13.5% of death by suicide in the country in 2017. Suicide in veteran populations increased by 6 percent from 2005 to 2017, and veterans are uniting to combat suicide one step at a time.
Ring began walking in October 2019 and was joined by Matthews, who retired from Ft. Bliss in September. Together the two are working through personal traumas while also encouraging others to do the same.
“We have conversations about family, friends, and like I said, struggles that veterans are going through. Struggles that I, myself, am going through. I explain to John so he can get a better understanding as well,” Matthews tells KTSM.
Mental health stigma often stems from a desire to handle problems alone. For many veterans, mitigating trauma is an ongoing solitary battle, and researchers have suggested stigma-reduction efforts for the Department of Defense to implement that will prompt reflection and conversation.
The discussion has been beneficial for veterans like Ring and Matthews who bond during their walk along Interstate 10 and is impacting the veteran community in El Paso.
Philip Lee, a local veteran and author of Face the Fence, an autobiography about his experience in the military, with PTSD, and stigmatization, is grateful for the opportunity to interact with others who have shared similar experiences. Like Ring and Matthews, Lee is using his voice to raise awareness.
But it’s up to the community to listen.
“I think this comes down to education,” Lee tells KTSM.
One step towards de-stigmatization is to consider the human toll mental health issues have on veterans.
“At the end of the day, they’re still people,” says Lee. “They need hope and they need to know there’s someone in their corner.”
At the end of the day, it’s nice to know you’re not alone.
To support homeless veterans in El Paso, click here.
To learn more about Buddy Watch Incorporated, click here.