RICHLAND, Wash. - One man is looking to raise awareness for veterans suffering from PTSD and suicidal thoughts.
Jimmy Novak, a retired Army Sergeant First Class, is walking across the country. He started in Dupont on March 22 and made a stop in Richland over the weekend.
“I have generalized anxiety disorder and history of depression,” Novak said. “I decided based on my own struggles with various emotional and mental challenges that I would raise awareness for veterans with PTSD and veteran suicide.”
Novak’s history with these struggles reached its climax in 2004. He was on his first combat deployment in the Middle East. During that time, the chow hall is Mosul was bombed and 22 Americans died.
Novak doesn’t have PTSD, but the other emotional struggles ate him up inside.
“I just bottled up the feelings and pushed them down,” he explained. “Kept putting on a happy face.”
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the average number of veterans who died by suicide each day is 20, based on a 2018 suicide data report.
While on deployment, Novak had a major suicidal episode. Another was during recruitment. During his last two years in the Army, that’s when he decided to plan and prepare his trek across the country. He retired after 21 years of service.
“If I can get out here and inspire others to seek help, to get past their own fear of stigma. Their own worries about career implications or people thinking less of them then that would be a fantastic thing for me to do,” Novak said.
The 42-year-old is heading to Disney World in Florida and hopes to make it by Aug. 22. On the way, he’s stopping at hotels, camping, or staying with people who welcomed him into their home.
On his 3,000-mile journey, Novak carries a hiking bag and a stroller in order to store water, food, clothes and more. His goal is to walk about 22 miles a day. He’s had a few hiccups along the way with his jogging stroller, but that’s not stopping him from his end goal – raising awareness.
"There is help. Your life has value,” Novak said about veterans who may be struggling. “There is somebody who cares about you. If nobody else, there’s me. I care about you.”
His next stop is Two Rivers. If you would like to help Jimmy during his walk across America, click here.
Remember, there is help. If you or someone you know is showing signs or having suicidal thoughts, support is there. Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text 838255.