Thru-Hiking for Veteran Suicide Prevention

In nine days I start my northbound 2019 Appalachian Trail thru-hike, raising awareness regarding veteran and military service members suicides. On average, 20 veterans and military members kill themselves each day. It is a startling statistic that rivals the death tolls of any modern US war and the heartbreaking statistic is shared with our international allies. It does not take money, just your time and listening skills.

Appalachian Trail pioneer and WWII veteran Earl Shaffer thru-hiked to “walk the war out of his system,” and the trend has slowly wound it way into various charities and therapy techniques. Several charities have sprung up to get veteran PTSD sufferers on the trail and healing. Help does not require you to donate to a charity, reaching out to a veteran in your life and listening to them.

Silence Kills My Fellow Brothers and Sisters in Arms

In the military, the mantra “suck it up and drive on” is pounded into our skulls. However, your silence and isolation will kill you by further compacting the symptoms of depression. Reach out to an old buddy because I bet they are going through the same hell.  If a squad member fell in battle, dead or alive, would you, your platoon, and medevac crew move heaven and earth to bring them back? How did you or your unit feel when it took forever for help to arrive or recover a body? Did you and your buddies not lovingly drape a poncho or woobie over a fallen comrade while waiting for medevac, tenderly picking any falling grains of sand off the cover?  When you are home, it is no different because we are all living on a battlefield in our minds. If you are in crisis, not reaching out to a friend, therapist, or confidential suicide line, you are hiding your body on a battlefield where we cannot find you.  You may have returned from deployment, but you owe it to your friends and family to request 9 Line MEDEVAC.

Startling Statistics

Symptoms may begin many years after combat is over, so these are liquid numbers.

  • 2.8 million: American veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
  • 11-20%: Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans currently with post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • 460,000: Highest estimated number of Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans with diagnosed or undiagnosed PTSD
  • 118,829: Number of deployed Iraq and Afghanistan veterans diagnosed with PTSD between 2002 and 2014.
  • 67%: Iraq and Afghanistan Army vets suffering from PTSD.
  • 39%: Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with substance abuse issues.
  • 50%: With PTSD do not seek treatment

Signs of PTSD

  • Anger or aggressive behavior.
  • Alcohol/drug abuse.
  • Depression.
  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Moral injury: Reluctance to get close to other people, difficulty trusting others or themselves, and a loss of faith or spirituality.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Unwanted memories or nightmares reliving deployment events repeatedly. The avoidance of situations or experiences that trigger these memories or reminders. Feeling numb, difficulty communicating with others, and feeling loving feelings toward others. Always on high alert and constantly irritable, making it hard to relax, sleep, or concentrate.

Signs of Crisis

  • Frequently appearing sad or depressed.
  • Hopelessness; feeling like there’s no way out.
  • Anxiety, agitation, sleeplessness, or mood swings.
  • Feeling as if there is no reason to live.
  • Feeling excessive guilt, shame, or sense of failure.
  • Rage or anger.
  • Engaging in risky activities without thinking.
  • Losing interest in hobbies, work, or school.
  • Increasing alcohol or drug misuse.
  • Neglecting personal welfare; a deteriorating physical appearance.
  • Withdrawing from family and friends.
  • Showing violent behavior, like punching a hole in the wall or getting into fights.
  • Giving away prized possessions.
  • Getting affairs in order, tying up loose ends, or writing a will.

The Following Signs Require Immediate Attention

  • Thinking about hurting self or suicide.
  • Researching suicide methods.
  • Talking about death, dying, or suicide.
  • Self-destructive behavior such as drug abuse, weapons, etc.

Till Valhalla, my brothers and sisters.


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Comments 3

  • Catmando : Jan 31st

    Artemis – thanks for your service and commitment to spread the word for our veterans. In my opinion, we can’t do enough for our vets and their families and as you stated, just reaching out is a huge step we can all do! Be safe, see you on the trail – I start in 16 days!!

  • Gracie : Feb 6th

    I don’t have instagram but would love to follow your hike. Is there another way I can do that?

    • Tracey : Feb 22nd

      Artemis on the trail- YouTube! Love her videos. She also has a Facebook pg and a website…


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