Editorial: Craig veteran to hike over Rabbit Ears and back to raise awareness, funds for PTSD | CraigDailyPress.com

Editorial: Craig veteran to hike over Rabbit Ears and back to raise awareness, funds for PTSD

A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.

— Lao Tzu

Will Montgomery isn't planning a journey of 1,000 miles this weekend, but it's safe to say he'll wind up taking a lot more than a single step before the sun sets Saturday.

Just before 3 a.m. that morning, the Craig veteran will embark on an epic hike that will take him through nearly 40 miles and more than 2,500 feet in elevation change. He plans to begin his long walk at the chain-up pull-off near the western base of Rabbit Ears Pass in Steamboat Springs, then hike over the pass to the intersection of U.S. Highway 40 and Colorado Highway 14, then turn around and hike back to the start.

He hopes to complete the journey in 18 hours, finishing at 6 p.m.

This feat, alone, would be impressive enough, but even more compelling are Montgomery's reasons for undertaking the hike, an endeavor that will cause him to miss his graduation from Colorado Northwestern Community College.

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He's walking to raise awareness — and hopefully funds — for the often overlooked plight faced by combat veterans, law enforcement officers and first responders: post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

"The overall mission is to let other veterans in the community know that they're not alone — that they're not the only ones who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder," Montgomery told the Craig Press recently. "Hopefully, this can give some resources out and get some attention in."

Montgomery is no stranger to the struggles for which he will walk. He spent almost 19 years in the U.S. Army before being medically discharged with diagnoses of PTSD and traumatic brain injury. Last year, he undertook a similar — albeit much shorter — walk to show support for fellow Craig resident Cory Hixson, a U.S. Marine Corps combat veteran who was injured in Fallujah and was ultimately forced to move his family to the Front Range to access better care for his PTSD and traumatic brain injury.

The 2017 walk took Montgomery, then joined by friend and fellow veteran Tracy Santistevan, a distance of 17 miles, from Craig to Hayden. As residents learned what the men were doing and why they were doing it, donations began to pour in, and ultimately, the pair collected nearly $1,000, which they donated to the Hixson family for medical expenses.

This year, Montgomery has significantly upped the stakes, in terms of both distance and difficulty, and he hopes to raise $5,000 to support the Craig Veterans of Foreign Wars' Comrade in Need Fund, which assists Moffat County veterans facing financial hardships. As of Thursday, he had already raised half that amount.

Donations may be made online at uk.gofundme.com/2nd-annual-hike-for-ptsd or delivered to Montgomery personally.

We wholeheartedly support this important effort. For far too long — and particularly on Colorado's Western Slope — PTSD has been misunderstood and mischaracterized, and it is our hope that, in addition to monetary contributions, the walk will foster greater public investment in and understanding of this important issue that faces so many of our hometown heroes.

Some illnesses are easy to see, and compassion, resources and support tend to characterize public perception of such illnesses. Others — like PTSD, traumatic brain injury and a host of other mental health concerns — while not so apparent from a cursory glance, can be just as devastating.

It is heartbreaking to realize that the archaic stigmas associated with mental illness persist even into the 21st century, so much so that they often stand as roadblocks to care. According to a 2017 survey released by Mental Health Colorado, 56.6 percent of Moffat County residents said they did not seek mental health care due to concerns about what would happen if someone found out, and another 61 percent said they did not access care because they were uncomfortable discussing personal problems.

The foregoing numbers stand at about twice the state averages.

And, in terms of veterans receiving needed care, the distance and cost involved are often prohibitive.

To counter this problem, Moffat County Veterans Services is seeking to break these stigmas, encourage prevention and early detection of mental illness and advance legislation to improve access to care.

The journey to achieving these goals — much like the journey Montgomery will face Saturday morning — will be long, difficult and challenging.

But both journeys — like all journeys — must begin with a single step.

Montgomery is taking that step, and we're behind him all the way.

Editorial Board

Renee Campbell, publisher

Jim Patterson, editor

Sasha Nelson, reporter

Brian MacKenzie, community representative

Shannon Moore, community representative

Contact the Editorial Board at editor@CraigDailyPress.com.