October 30, 2014

Medina
Intermittent clouds
44°F

Veteran raising awareness about PTSD on trek across country

(DAVID KNOX / GAZETTE)

Eric Peters, a New Jersey Army veteran, said he’s walking across the nation to raise awareness and funding for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. Peters, who served in Afghanistan, was interviewed Tuesday afternoon along state Route 18 in Granger Township. The sign at right indicates that portion of the highway is dedicated to Marine Sgt. Michael W. Finke Jr., of Westlake, who died in a helicopter crash in Iraq in January 2005. (DAVID KNOX / GAZETTE)

A New Jersey Army veteran is walking across the nation to raise awareness and funding for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Eric Peters made his way into Medina County on Tuesday afternoon, just one stop on his route to California.

(DAVID KNOX / GAZETTE)

Eric Peters, a New Jersey Army veteran, took a break from his cross-country walk to chat with Gazette reporters Tuesday afternoon along state Route 18 in Granger Township. (DAVID KNOX / GAZETTE)

Peters, 23, started his journey last month in New Jersey after he said Veterans Affairs hospitals weren’t helping him with his PTSD.

Peters enlisted in the Army in 2011 and was wounded in Afghanistan in 2013. Peters said he earned a Purple Heart and was returned to a hospital in the United States where he was diagnosed with PTSD.

“If I had an injury, they would treat that; but as far as my PTSD issues, they wouldn’t do anything,” Peters said.

After the recent scandal involving allegations that the VA had secret waiting lists and kept veterans waiting to receive care, Peters said he realized other veterans might be struggling to get the care they need to treat their PTSD.

Peters has set up a gofundme.com site to raise money and promises to donate all the money to www.giveanhour.org, a nonprofit that provides free mental health services to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families.

“I’m not doing this so people will know me or know who I am. It’s about helping everyone struggling with PTSD,” he said.

Peters is making his way in Army fatigues and with all his belongings crammed into a large backpack. He’s carrying an American flag along the route.

He visited his grandfather’s gravesite before leaving New Jersey and promised to carry the flag to California with him and make it back safely.

Along the route, people honk, cheer and give him the thumbs-up as he trudges along holding the flag high.

“No matter who the president is, who Congress is, whether you support their decisions,” he said, “everyone knows the flag stands for freedom, and people get behind that.”

Along the way, he’s met a number of other veterans struggling with PTSD. On the road in Ohio earlier this week, he met a veteran who gave him an Army necklace with a small bell inside as a good luck charm.

“He was a Harley (Davidson) biker and he said ringing it helps keep away the road demons,” Peters said. “He had PTSD, too.”

So far, the closest relationship Peters has made along his trip has been with Melinda Wright in Tallmadge. Peters said he spent a few days at her home and hopes to return to her in Ohio at the end of the journey. Meeting her felt like love at first sight, he said.

“She’s a really, really great person,” he said. “We’ve been texting and calling each other.”

To follow Peters, look up Eric Peters of Clark, New Jersey, on Facebook, or make a donation at www.gofundme.com/9bsmx4.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com. Follow her on Twitter @lorengenson.

(DAVID KNOX / GAZETTE)

Eric Peters, a New Jersey Army veteran, displays a good luck charm another vet gave him. (DAVID KNOX / GAZETTE)

(DAVID KNOX / GAZETTE)

(DAVID KNOX / GAZETTE)

(DAVID KNOX / GAZETTE)

(DAVID KNOX / GAZETTE)