Co-Founder of Fundraising Group Explains Work to Help Veterans Fight “The War After the War”
Shepherd's Men raising money for Shepherd Center's SHARE Military Initiative.
By Troy Campbell
U.S. Marine Gunnery Sergeant
Co-Founder, Shepherd’s Men
It’s a tragic situation when 22 U.S. veterans take their own lives every day. That’s a needless loss of more than 8,000 service men and women a year.
I’ve lost brothers in combat and have witnessed the sad plight of many when they return home. They experience the pain of divorce, joblessness, homelessness and hopelessness. The devastating effects of traumatic brain injury(TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) set up a deadly “Catch 22,” taking them from all they love and all who love them.
I wanted to do something to help and give back, but didn’t know what – or how. I’m a runner, and one day it clicked. I felt like my personal running goals were selfish. What if I could turn running into a way to connect with and help veterans? In 2014, with several incredible patriots, we formed a group called the Shepherd’s Men (shepherdsmen.com) and hatched the idea to do long-distance runs.
We strive to accomplish three things: First, we run to tell the story of an epidemic – veteran suicide – and raise money to support research and treatment for veterans who have sustained a TBI and are experiencing PTSD. We support Shepherd Center’s unique program called SHARE Military Initiative. It is a comprehensive rehabilitation program that focuses on assessment and treatment for service men and women who have sustained a mild to moderate traumatic brain injury, along with co-occurring PTSD or other mental health concerns (such as depression or anxiety), from service in post-9/11 conflicts.
Secondly, Shepherd’s Men wants to interact with as many veterans as we can and say thank you, especially to those who didn’t get a great homecoming. And lastly, we run to show people that with resolve, commitment and alongside fellow patriots, you can endure almost anything. My personal motto is “Relentless Forward Movement,” which can be applied to all aspects of our lives.
This past week, we began our fourth big run. Seventeen active-duty Marines, former servicemen and civilians from across the United States came together and ran half marathons – every day for eight days across eight cities. On May 22, we started in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where heroes aboard Flight 93 prevented that plane from becoming a weapon on 9/11. We wore 93 pounds of gear to honor them. For the remaining runs, we wore 22-pound flak jackets and are scheduled to finish in Atlanta on Memorial Day, May 29. The weight represents the struggle and burden our veterans carry with them. But, the physical challenge of our run is nothing compared to the challenges faced by our service men and women.
We ran to attract attention – your attention. We want to spread the message that a miracle can happen for every veteran who is feeling unbearable “pain.” Our mission is to drastically reduce the number of veteran suicides. Since Shepherd’s Men began in 2014, we’ve run more than 3,000 miles and raised $1.3 million as a team. Our goal for 2017 is $2.2 million.
The SHARE Military Initiative at Shepherd Center has transformed the lives and families of more than 300 post-9/11 veterans – with no financial cost to them. This unique program provides 12 weeks of intensive rehabilitation to treat mild to moderate TBI and PTSD. It’s a model for other centers – with new promising treatments, customized rehabilitation and follow-up outreach by a life coach. Graduates of the program return to meaningful lives and feel alive again.
Veterans who have served in U.S. Armed Forces volunteered for our country, for all of us, and they return with battle scars that need our help to heal. When the war comes home with them, too many are pushed to the margins while the rest of us enjoy the freedom for which they fought.
This Memorial Day, everyone can salute our veterans by getting involved and taking one action. Lift a helping hand. Tell someone who needs help about SHARE. Take a stand to help our country move forward – and reach zero veteran suicides. Honor the service men and women who make possible our American way of life.
TROY CAMPBELL, a co-founder of Shepherd’s Men, has served as a U.S. Marine for 18 years, including active duty in Iraq. The recipient of multiple awards and commendations, he is a Gunnery Sargent with U.S. Marine Corps Recruiting Command and resides with his wife and two children in Quantico, Va.
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Ga., is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury or brain injury. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation and is a 152-bed facility. Last year Shepherd Center had 965 admissions to its inpatient programs and 571 to its day patient programs. In addition, Shepherd Center sees more than 6,600 people annually on an outpatient basis. For more information, visit Shepherd Center online at www.shepherd.org