From Holmdel to D.C.: A veteran’s walk to help those with PTSD
Ten years ago, combat veteran Mike Dowens was honorably discharged from the United States Navy, where he was a search and rescue swimmer in Liberia, Somalia and Haiti.
Today Dowens suffers from PTSD and currently works as a police officer in Holmdel, about to embark on a walk along with three other people to raise $10,000 for a veteran to receive PTSD care at The Refuge in Florida, where he received treatment himself.
The Three Day, 237-Mile Walk from the New Jersey Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Holmdel to the Veteran's Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. commences June 2 stopping only to use the restroom and eat while they walk.
While he doesn't know who the veteran who will be treated is, Dowens says the goal remains the same.
"Once I finish the walk, I'm going to contact The Refuge and let them know that I have the money," Dowens said. "Then they're going to let me know when they have a veteran ready to go begin therapy and that's when I will give them the money I raised."
Dowens, now 37 years old, understands the importance of another veteran getting the same care.
"It's going to signify the strain that all veterans, service men and women have gone through," Dowens said. "If I have to put myself through three days of uncomfortableness, then it's worth it."
Following his discharge from the Navy before becoming an officer with Holmdel Police in 2008, Dowens found the transition was pretty difficult.
"Ever since I got out in 2006 I had issues with anger, depression, substance abuse with alcohol, all of the tell tale signs of someone with post-traumatic stress," Dowens said. "I didn't really believe I had post-traumatic stress. It wasn't until recently, when I noticed my actions and what I was doing to my family, to my wife and son, is when I needed to seek help."
Dowens was in The Refuge in Florida for 76 days and went through a transformation by receiving the care to help him with his PTSD.
It wasn't just medication facilitators used by he says meditation, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, equine therapy (working with horses) and even art therapy to help him cope with his traumatic experience.
"There's 2.8 Million veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Only 20 percent of them, which is a lot, have post-traumatic stress Disorder and depression as a result of their experiences," Dowens said. "Of that number only half of those service men and women seek treatment."
He adds his experience at The Refuge was "life-changing," and as a result, Dowens said, he sees life in a whole new way.
"I get unwavering support from my wife," Dowens said. "My son, he's only 2, but he's got my back the whole way. My Police Department, and my PBA support me."
The support for Dowens continues to grow.
"Everyone who I've dealt with at the Holmdel Vietnam Veterans Memorial have been nothing but kind and supportive in this process for me," Dowens said.
The officer from Homdel said he won't be walking the entire way to D.C. alone — he will be joined by another person who was in The Refuge with him, along with two other veterans.
Robert Pieerasesa is one of the individuals being identified by Dowens who will be wearing body armor and carrying a couple flags for the journey including an American Flag with a 'P.O.W. M.I.A. Flag, and another with all the branches of the Armed Services.