Last week, Jim Novak, a U.S. Army veteran walking from Dupont, Washington to Disney World, made stops in Aberdeen and Amory on his trek. As with any other stop on his 13-state journey, he shared the same topics with anyone willing to listen – post-traumatic stress syndrome disorder and suicide prevention, not just among veterans but anyone.
“Somewhere in the ballpark of 22 veterans commit suicide per day,” he said. “I try to walk 22 miles per day for the 22 veterans who die each day. I started March 22 and will end my journey August 22, which is 22 weeks.”
During his trek through Monroe County, American Legion Post 26 in Aberdeen provided his meal and hotel accommodations for the night. In addition to a warm reception there, he was also greeted by a group of people in Amory.
Novak served 21 years in the U.S. Army and was a chemical operations specialist who retired as a sergeant first class. He has faced his own cases of anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
“I ignored it for 13 years then decided to seek help. All the things I worried about, the thoughts peers and co-workers may think about me, they were sort of mental Boogie Men. I want other people to know help is available and they should seek help early,” he said.
He suggested veterans dealing with such issues should find a community, citing the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and church organizations as examples.
“Veterans separated from service suffer alone and don’t have the same support system they did while in active duty. By having that sense of community, when they’re ready to talk, there’s someone there,” Novak said. “They need to be around people they feel safe with.”
He is in a good place now emotionally and physically, and sharing his stories with complete strangers is his therapy.
“The main thing is don’t keep it inside. You can’t see these problems. You can see the symptoms but not the problems,” he said. “This is a healing journey, and I’ll never know how many lives I’ll be able to connect to. I think it will spread and grow.”