Paralyzed Veteran Hand-Cycles 1,500 Miles to Raise Awareness for Mental Health

What is the biggest problem many veterans face when they return to the U.S.?

Finding a good job comes to mind. Readjusting to the culture is another. And for injured vets, getting proper medical treatment can be a struggle.

But sadly, the worst problems many vets face are “invisible war wounds.” I’m referring to the serious and complicated issue of mental health.

Suicides among returning U.S. veterans are disturbingly high. Higher than the rates for the general population.

Purple Heart Vet on a Mission

“We’ve lost nine guys from our unit to suicides since we returned, and we didn’t lose anyone in (Iraq),” said U.S. Army vet Ricky Raley. He served his country from 2004 to 2010.

“People are suffering alone and they think there is no help. My buddy just took his life. He needed to know there is a group putting their boots on for him.”

Raley wanted to do something about this horrible problem. But he had two major challenges to deal with.

He suffered a traumatic brain injury during an explosion while deployed in Iraq. Then, six months after returning to America, he was paralyzed in a car crash.

But the Purple Heart recipient didn’t let those setbacks derail him. He knew this mission was just as important as any in which he engaged in the Middle East.

Healing Invisible War Wounds

Raley decided to embark on a 1,500-mile hand-cycling trip to spread awareness about mental health problems among veterans.

And to raise funds for the Boot Campaign. The organization provides services for veterans struggling with invisible war wounds.

“Everyone came home walking, but then people didn’t realize those invisible war wounds actually are tearing people apart,” Raley said.

“And they’re not able to function in their families or push them away because they don’t want to hurt. They isolate themselves and then they start self-medicating. And before you know it, suicides happen.”

More Than 100 Miles a Day

Raley started his quest at Ground Zero in New York City. He averaged about 130 miles a day on his hand-bike.

His journey concluded in late summer at a Wounded Warriors camp near St. Petersburg, Florida.

He said that the suicides among those in his unit have affected many people.

“It’s devastating to everyone around them, and that’s why I’m out here every day pushing,” Raley said.

Boot Campaign Bridges the Gap

Raley’s goal was to raise $150,000 for this cause. That’s enough to sponsor five veterans to go through the Boot Campaign’s personalized health and wellness pipeline.

The Boot Campaign is all about bridging the divide between military and civilian life for U.S. veterans.

Their goal is to provide access to innovative and holistic care for veterans. Especially those suffering from traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, self-medication and insomnia.

The Boot Campaign partners with treatment and training providers. They aim to restore health and wellness to veterans, reconnect families, restart careers, reduce suicides and reinforce communities.

Simply put, they try to help veterans take control of their lives by getting back on the path to wellness.

Raley Trying to Stem the Tide

Suicide rates among veterans and even active-duty service men and women are extremely disturbing.

According to the Veterans Administration, an average of more than 20 suicides occur daily among those two groups.

That means more than 6,100 veterans and nearly 1,400 active-duty service members commit suicide on average every year.

Even though he is paralyzed, Raley is doing everything he can. He wants to make sure that people who have served our country know there is help for them as they struggle with mental health issues.

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