DES MOINES, Iowa - For Zac Durham, a local veteran of the war in Afghanistan, it was the feeling of "being lost" he struggled most with after being medically retired from the U.S. Army in April 2011. He was severely injured during his service, and says he still only has partial use of his left arm to this day.
"You really feel like you've lost something," he said. "And that's where we see a lot of guys have more issues with their PTSD, because they don't have that kind of close-knit group that they had before. So it can cause you to just feel lost."
It wasn't until then that he realized the dangerous reality of post-traumatic stress disorder, as he began dealing with it first-hand. The "life-long healing process", he says, didn't truly start for him until he embarked on a bear hunt with several other veterans in Alaska; the camping and hunting trip was organized by Alaska's Healing Hearts, a non-profit organization committed to helping U.S. veterans recover from PTSD, often through outdoor activities.
"It gave us a lot of time to just be together and talk, which turns out to be most helpful," he said. "It's the best kind of therapy you can get. It truly is."
The feeling was mutual among the other veterans in attendance. He enjoyed the trip so much, now he says he wants to bring it to Iowa. He's gathered 13 veterans in the area who expressed interest in a camping and hunting trip, and now all that stands in the way is funding.
"Unfortunately, the majority of these guys live on a very small fixed income due to their wounds sustained in the service," he said. "Because we don't want anyone to not be able to go because of the money...that's the most important thing. We don't want money to be a factor."
Durham started a GoFundMe.com page in July. He says his goal is to raise $6,500 by mid-fall, as he hopes to have the trip take place in November. The destination in mind for the group is in northern Tennessee, in the Smokey Mountains. He says he's also reaching out to private businesses to help reach his fundraising goals.
Recent numbers conducted in a study supported by the Veterans Administration say at least 20% of all Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffer from PTSD, and out of that group, only about 50% seek treatment. Durham hopes this camping trip will touch the lives of at least a few veterans with the disorder, and help put them on the path to healing, just as the Alaska trip did for him.
"My goal is to build a larger network with guys from all over in order to mitigate the numbers falling through the cracks," he said. "That is where we see a large number of suicides occur. It's the guys who feel they are alone. We need to reach out before it is too late."
As of Saturday, August 23rd, Durham's fundraising campaign has raised $615.