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Mike Dowens will kick off the three-day walk from the Memorial on June 2 to raise funds to send a veteran suffering from PTSD to treatment
Holmdel, NJ (May 24, 2016) — Mike Dowens, a Navy veteran, is kicking off a three-day walk from the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Holmdel, NJ, to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., on June 2, 2016. Dowens suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) stemming from his time serving in the Liberia, Somalia and Haiti as a Navy search and rescue swimmer. His goal is to increase awareness about PTSD and raise money through a Go Fund Me campaign to send a veteran in need to The Refuge, a treatment center in Florida where he sought treatment for his own PTSD.
Dowens, 37, will begin his walk the morning of June 2 at the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, 1 Memorial Lane, exit 116 off the Garden State Parkway at the PNC Bank Arts Center. He will then take a route on walkable roads to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., a total of 237 miles. He will be joined on his walk by another veteran and PTSD sufferer. The two will walk non-stop, pausing only for meals.
After spending four years in the Navy and being honorably discharged in 2006 for asthma he developed while overseas, Dowens felt lost. He felt severe separation from the military and suffered intense symptoms of PTSD for years before he finally sought treatment.
“I struggled with the fact that I wasn’t in the Navy any longer,” said Dowens. “I had survivor’s guilt and tried to get back into the military nine times.”
Dowens knows The Refuge, a PTSD and trauma center in Ocklawaha, Florida, saved his life. And now, he knows he wants to give back.
“While I was in treatment I realized I could serve without going back in the military,” he said. “I could raise money for a veteran to get the same help that I got.”
The walk Dowens is making draws sharp comparison to the Last Patrol, a group of New Jersey Vietnam veterans who walked from the nation's capital in 1989 to the would-be site of the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Holmdel to raise awareness, support, and funds for a memorial honoring Vietnam Veterans in New Jersey.
On May 27, 1989, The Last Patrol was greeted with welcome arms by members of the community who had come to pay respect to the efforts of these men as well as to honor the fallen. The message was simple — Welcome Home.
That message spoke volumes to a group of veterans who hadn’t been welcomed home with such open arms. The Vietnam War was unpopular in the United States, and the soldiers felt the brunt of that unpopularity when they returned home. Adjusting to life at home was difficult, and things like PTSD and other health issues were largely ignored. Veterans felt isolated and alone and often didn’t seek treatment.
Veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan and other recent conflicts have had similar experiences when coming home. PTSD and its treatment are major issues with this group of military veterans, and something difficult to seek help for. It’s something they share with Vietnam Veterans.
“Not all wounds are visible,” said Dowens.
And it’s those invisible wounds Dowens is trying to raise awareness for with his walk. His mission, named Unbroken Warriors, has raised more than $6,000 to date with a goal of $10,000. The funds will send a veteran for PTSD treatment at The Refuge. To donate, click here.
Dowens, who has been a police officer in Holmdel for eight years, will wear a full pack weighing 70 pounds on his walk. He hopes this trek calls attention to the issues that veterans, past and present, are dealing with.
“You don’t have to wear a uniform to serve,” said Dowens.
About New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Foundation
The New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, dedicated May 7, 1995, strives to encourage and foster patriotism and provide for recognition of the sacrifices, courage and valor of the New Jersey Veterans of the Vietnam Era. The Vietnam Era Museum & Educational Center, dedicated in September 1998, strives to encourage and foster a thorough understanding of the Vietnam era, including the political, historical, social, cultural and military aspects that affected the United States, especially New Jersey. For more information, visit www.njvvmf.org.