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Suicide is a real risk for veterans. This Army vet is taking a major step to stop it

What are the warning signs of mental illness?

About 75 percent of lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 24, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. But the average delay between onset and intervention is 8 to 10 years, meaning people could go years before getting help.
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About 75 percent of lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 24, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. But the average delay between onset and intervention is 8 to 10 years, meaning people could go years before getting help.

Jimmy Novak set out from his DuPont, Wash., home wearing his mission in the form of a bracelet.

The black and silver bracelet references the sobering statistic that an average of 22 military veterans a day died by suicide, according to a 2012 report. While that number has fluctuated slightly, it has remained near that rate over the past seven years.

“I’m hoping to inspire people to connect with their veteran community,” said Novak, a 21-year veteran of the U.S. Army. “I’m hoping to inspire veterans to seek the kin of relationships and friendships they knew when they were in the service.”

That’s why the 42-year-old walked his way into Richland Sunday morning, and why he’s walking across the country.

Novak, who suffers from anxiety and depression, had just wrapped up his Army career when he decided he needed to do something positive. In 2017 he made the decision to walk from his DuPont home to Walt Disney World in Orlando and began planning the trek.

Needed a purpose after the Army

“After spending that long in the Army, you just don’t know necessarily who you are without the Army there to support you,” he said. “I didn’t want it to be just about me, because you can do anything for yourself. But if you’re not giving back to the world, what are you doing? I want to help others out who have had similar struggles.”

He enjoys the symmetry of the walk as he follows his military career back to when he was stationed on the East Coast, and back to Florida, where he attended school as a first grader.

For the past two years, Novak has planned his 3,101-mile walk. On March 22, he loaded up his car, laced up his shoes and started his hike. He has his pack, a mess kit and other supplies loaded into a cart. He plans to carry food in the cart when the towns get farther apart.

He has made a few concessions to walking the entire way, such as driving around the pass to get to Yakima, but much of the journey he’s made on foot. So far, he’s surprised how good the paths have been.

“I expected I would have a lot more route challenges, but so far everywhere that I have been has had good walking areas.”

Much of his trip is spent in his own company, with occasional time spent listening to music. For the most part, he said, he tries to keep his head up and keep looking around to enjoy the passing scenery.

For much of the trip, he is hoping to stay with people who are willing to take him in. So far he’s found a few families willing to invite him to stay with them.

People can follow Novak’s journey on his Facebook page at bit.ly/JLNovak. He is also raising money through GoFundMe at bit.ly/NovakGoFundMe and on Facebook at bit.ly/NovakFacebook.

Cameron Probert covers breaking news and education for the Tri-City Herald, where he tries to answer readers’ questions about why police officers and firefighters are in your neighborhood. He studied communications at Washington State University.
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