ELIZABETH, NJ – Army Veteran Eric Peters looked out at the crowd of 100-plus, most of them wearing T-shirts with the slogan “Not Every Wound is Visible.” He then said, “I know Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’m married to it. I sleep with it every night. Before, a balloon popped, and I hit the ground. I saw three other people do the same. That’s PTSD. Twenty-two vets commit suicide every day. That’s PTSD.”

The 24-year-old Clark native spoke about his stuggles with PTSD during the "First Annual Walking in My Boots Walkathon," held in Warinanco Park on Saturday, May 30. Peters made national news last year by walking from New Jersey to California to raise awareness of the condition.

“When I got home from Afghanistan, there were very little services for me,” remembered Peters, who was awarded a Purple Heart as a member of the 101st Airborne Division. “The VA never recognized PTSD, but I was now different. I wasn’t the same, happy kid. I was a grumpy person who had difficulties with relationships. I was always on high security. I always have to be able to see everything around me.”

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Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it, such as war, a physical assault, or a disaster. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event, according to the Mayo Clinic. Getting effective treatment after PTSD symptoms develop can be critical to reduce symptoms and improve function.

The Walkathon was presented by two non-profit organizations: Moving New Jersey Forward, a community-based non-profit that works to raise awareness and education efforts at the local and national levels on issues pertaining to social justice, and VET4U, a non-profit that advocates for and assists military veterans. The event was co-sponsored by the County of Union Board of Chosen Freeholders and the Historic Midtown Elizabeth Special Improvement District.

“This is a group effort," Union County Freeholder and founder of Moving New Jersey Forward Sergio Granados said. "By working together we can get so much more accomplished. I believe that the veterans are not getting all the services they deserve. Our veterans have sacrificed for us. They have done so much for our freedom and our liberty, and we need to make sure that we try to give back as much as they have given to us. This event is going to help out veterans with PTSD. There are a lot of veterans who have it and need counseling services. That’s what we are doing here today, all the funds raised are for counseling services for these veterans."

Janna Williams, a United States Air Force veteran and founder of VET4U, was instrumental in organizing the Walkathon. “I believe that not all wounds are visible,” she explained. “My goal is be there and help any way I can. My goal, my mission, my passion is the veterans.”

Williams’s organization has offered free meals and weekly yoga classes held every Wednesday evening at the Roselle Firehouse, among other services. 

The Walkathon, organized in just two and a half weeks, registered 120 walkers in advance, plus walk-ins on the day of the event. In addition, the event received the support of dozens of sponsors, including TAPinto.net.

“When our community comes together, we can make a great difference,” Granados said.

June has been designated PTSD Awareness Month. Those seeking more information on PTSD, can go to http://www.ptsd.va.gov/index.asp or if living in Union County, can call the Union County Office of Veterans’ Affairs at 908-659-7407 for referral information or reach the office toll free, at 1-866-640-7115.

Janna Williams can be conracted at vet4u2@gamil.com.