Veteran services

Veteran walks over 2,000 miles for military suicide awareness. – InspirePlus

Travis Snyder has seen his fair share of fights and he knows exactly how difficult it can be to reintegrate into society after spending time in a war zone.

The Michigan man is a Navy veteran who served as a corporal in Afghanistan from 2017 to 2018. After retiring and returning to the United States, he began to struggle with his mental health — and he doesn’t. He wasn’t the only one to feel this. He watched his military friends struggle with PTSD and other challenges as well.

In 2019, Travis lost one of his good friends and former castmates to suicide. This loss opened his eyes to a tragic reality: approximately 17 veterans die by suicide in the United States every day. Travis became determined to raise awareness of this fact and found ways to help veterans access mental health resources to reintegrate into civilian life after combat.

“Up to that point in my unit we had lost others before my serve, but this was the first time I had suffered a loss so close,” Travis said. “Once we lost Jeff, I would say I felt driven to do something and walking and hiking was the best thing I knew how to do.”

In August, Travis packed up his backpack and embarked on a hike that would take him all around Lake Michigan, a journey of 810 miles. He completed his first hike around the lake on October 6, 2019, just 42 days after he left.

But one hike was not enough. In an effort to promote suicide awareness among veterans, he has partnered with Mission 22, a non-profit organization that provides veterans with mental health support and resources. Every time he hikes, Travis collects donations for them through Facebook.

He uses his open video forums as a chance to discuss tough topics like suicide, refugees, and other potentially painful but necessary issues. In addition, the platform allows him to share videos and photos of his trip.

Thanks to the support he’s received from people on social media, Travis has yet to unroll his sleeping bag and camp outside! Instead, he receives a bed and food every day from kind strangers who support his mission.

“The first year I was going hiking, I didn’t tell too many people what I was doing,” Travis explained. “I was just going to commemorate our comrade we lost to suicide and hoped to reach a few people along the way. I had all my camping gear and was ready to go wherever I could.

“However, with the help of Facebook, word of mouth and other platforms, thousands of people have rallied around each company, eager to contribute in some way; be it a meal, a roof, a bed or just a word of encouragement,” he continued. “I’m so grateful when I share that after four walks and 2,240 total miles, I haven’t resorted to camping somewhere for one night yet. I’ve always had a bed or a place to stay, be it a house or a hotel.

Travis has done three more hikes since finishing that first walk. In 2020 he walked 210 miles along the shore. In 2021, he has covered another 200 kilometres. More recently, in 2022, he completed his longest walk to date: around 900 miles!

Travis plans to continue his walks for as long as needed. He hopes his efforts will lead to open and honest discussions about mental health and break down the stigma around suicide for his fellow veterans. He is already planning another hike for 2023, possibly around Lake Superior this time.

“Believe me, the desire is there, and as long as we continue to lose our loved ones to suicide, the call and the need will continue to be there too,” he said.

To share this story to help Travis on his mission to help his fellow veterans find hope.

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