COOPERSVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — A U.S. Marine Corps veteran in West Michigan is bringing together veterans from across the state to raise awareness about a deadly problem: post-traumatic stress disorder.
Bart Gramek and fellow veterans organized a 92-mile walk from Comstock Park to Cadillac. He says they’re doing it to change to change the alarming statistic that about 22 veterans die each day as a result of suicide.
The walk, called “No Veteran Left Behind – 92 for 22,” starts on Thursday morning and ends Sunday afternoon. The group will walk the White Pine Trail and has mapped stops along the way.
Gramek has been training and planning for the event for months.
He told 24 Hour News 8 that he has seen some rough times since joining the Marines on Sept. 11, 2001.
“We had people running in, saying planes [were] crashing into towers,” Gramek recalled. “A lot of us thought we were watching a movie on TV.”
The tragedy didn’t deter the commitment he made.
Gramek served multiple tours overseas, but said he has been fighting a new battle since coming home. Like most veterans, he has plenty of enjoyable memories from his time serving his country, but mixed into those are some he would like to forget.
“PTSD is real,” he said. “It’s a demon. It’s not that the individuals don’t want to let go of the demon, it’s more the demon not letting go of the individual.”
Gramek admits that “demon” sometimes catches hold of him. That’s why he’s hoping to spread the word to vets that they’re not alone.
“A lot of these veterans, they come home but they don’t come home. Their mind is still back there,” Gramek said. “There’s a stigma about it — that when you have PTSD, you’re broken. And you’re not.”
He mentioned that some experience various triggers though smells, sights or sounds.
“You’re driving down the highway and you see a bag of trash and you’re swerving, and then you’re thinking, ‘There’s no reason for me to swerve. I’m back home here in Michigan again,'” he said.
He’s promoting a two-fold solution. He said that veterans need to try to be more open assistance and that loved ones must be flexible when someone returns home. That includes avoiding phrases like, “you’ve changed” and “you need to change.”
“With myself, it’s about denial. ‘You’re fine.’ You keep telling yourself that you’re fine until the camel has a broken back, until you can’t take it anymore and then you actually try and go seek help,” he said.
For some, he said, that point comes too late.
Gramek said there must be greater awareness to stop more vets from going to extreme measures.
For more information on the walk, meet-up times and how you can donate, you can visit the “No Veteran Left Behind – 92 for 22” Facebook page.