Since 2001, over 2.5 million veterans have returned home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD. According to The New York Times, the traditional therapy some receive from the Department of Veteran Affairs is not enough. But there is a growing trend that is helping them move forward-- by heading outdoors.
World War II veteran Earl Schaffer was the first person to hike the Appalachian Trail, and did so to “walk the Army out of my system, both mentally and physically.” Marine veteran Sean Gobin followed in Earl’s boots and hiked all 2,185 miles of the Appalachian Trail after returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. After experiencing the therapeutic effects of the hike, Gobin founded the non-profit Warrior Expeditions in 2012.
“Before modern times, armies would march home and they would get to decompress with their comrades. When I got out, I got a 20-minute PowerPoint,” Gobin told the New York Times. “We’ve lost that cathartic experience. We no longer have the time and space to process what we’ve gone through.”
Warrior Expeditions is one of several organizations helping veterans transition into civilian life through treks across the country. During their three to six month expeditions, veterans are able to decompress along with others who understand what they’re going through. It’s open to any veteran that served in a combat zone and has been honorably discharged-- even as far back as Vietnam. Warrior Expeditions supplies veterans with high quality clothing and equipment at no cost.
In addition to the Appalachian Trail, there are eight other hiking expeditions that veterans can choose from including:
-The Arizona Trail: This is the shortest at 800 miles. This trail starts at the Mexico border and traverses through the Grand Canyon.
-The Continental Divide Trail: The longest hike registers at 3,100 miles. It crosses five states from Mexico to Montana.
-The Mountain to Sea Trail: 1,200 miles across North Carolina varying terrain.
-The Pacific Crest Trail: 2,650 miles from California’s border with Mexico to Washington’s border with Canada.
Other options include kayaking the entire Mississippi River, and biking the Trans America Trail.
A lengthy three to six month expedition might sound extreme to civilians. But for veterans, it might be just what they need to put things behind them and finally come home.