In an effort to raise awareness of the suffering veterans undergo in the throes of post-traumatic stress disorder, Frank Romeo is giving new meaning to the term “boots on the ground.”
Romeo, a 70-year-old Vietnam veteran, is walking from Niagara Falls to his hometown of Bay Shore to bring a message to anyone who will listen: To many soldiers once in the crucible of war, PTSD is the new enemy, and it too can be frightening and deadly.
Romeo served as an infantryman in the U.S. Army in Vietnam and Cambodia in 1969. He was shot seven times and separated from his unit. It’s not something he likes to talk about. The nightmares of those events haunt him 50 years later.
He wants to destigmatize PTSD and see it treated as a mental illness particular to men who put their lives on the line.
“The stigma surrounding mental illness in this country is not helping our veterans,” Romeo said. “They are not coming forward. When I speak, I introduce myself as having mental illness and I suffer from PTSD. We need people to say these words. There is nothing to be ashamed of. That’s my goal.”
PTSD is as much a killer as any bullet or bomb in war. An average of 20 veterans die from suicide each day, according to the most recent report published by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in 2016.
Despite his advancing years, Romeo is in better shape than many men half his age. But the spectre of PTSD lingers and will probably not go away. Men marched into battle in Vietnam and paid a heavy price. That’s why Frank Romeo walks today, marching into a new and precarious battle.