A Vietnam Veteran who has lived with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for the past 50 years is taking a walk across New York State to raise awareness and support for other veterans, young and old, who are also living with PTSD. He began his journey in Buffalo.
Frank Romeo introduced himself as a"survivor" while appearing at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park last Friday. He was wrapping up a week of local speaking engagements and it was from the Military Park where he would begin his walk across the state.
"My vision is to reach those silent veterans that suffer, the ones that haven't taken that first step, to move forward in their lives," Romeo said.
His family was present, and shedding tears, as he explained that he chooses to identify as a survivor as a means to empower others to embrace their disabilities. After his wife helped him strap on his backpack, Romeo left the Military Park's museum to the playing of "Taps" and trekked along Canalside toward HarborCenter and Perry Street.
He explained to WBFO that arrangements were made along the way with shelters where he will stay at his stops. This is not a straight walk from Buffalo to his home in Long Island but a tour that will make stops along the way. He hopes to engage with fellow veterans to show them support, while also raising awareness for the need to assist veterans with PTSD.
He says access to services falls woefully short in many parts of the state.
"I've visited 25 counties, some good, some bad. Some of our New York State counties don't have (Veterans Service Organizations). They don't have a veteran representative," Romeo said. "Our veterans are left in counties, in some counties throughout the state, that have to travel great distances to other counties for help.
"This is no longer acceptable. PTSD is real. Our veterans are real. Our future veterans are real."
Romeo told WBFO he hopes to conclude his walking tour by June, the end of the current school term, so he may engage with some of those "future veterans" - students - along the way.