Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Army veteran brings paddleboard journey to Virginia Beach to raise money to help other vets

The 3,500-mile journey from Corpus Christi, Texas, to New York City is long, but it’s nothing compared to the one Josh Collins is on in his post-military life. Even though that journey is on a stand-up paddleboard.

Collins, a former special operator in the Army, is trying to raise awareness of veteran suicides, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. He experienced multiple service-related TBIs, according to his website, and hasn’t had the easiest time dealing with them. He was hospitalized and underwent therapy, but didn’t feel better until he got into stand-up paddle boarding. It got him out of the house and moving again, and the paddleboard became his sanctuary, he said.

Now he’s on a mission to help other veterans suffering like him. That’s why he’s paddle boarding up the East Coast, raising money for the Task Force Dagger Foundation, a Texas-based nonprofit that helps special operators and their families.

“There’s too many guys that won’t get help,” he said.

He held a fundraiser at CP Shuckers at the Oceanfront on Saturday. So far, he’s raised more than $150,000.

He expects to be in Washington, D.C., next week. He hopes to talk to lawmakers about helping veterans in ways that don’t involve prescription drugs. He wants to inspire people in his situation to seek treatment, instead of considering suicide. “It’s important we’re ready as a nation to continue to care for those guys,” Collins said.

Being on the paddleboard gives him a mission, like when he was in the Army. He said he wants people to know that even when they leave the military, they are valuable.

What’s keeping him going on his paddling journey – despite storms, strong currents, sharks and long days – is the encouragement he’s received along the way. He’s calling the trip Operation Phoenix.

He started March 5 and goes about 30 or 40 miles each day. He expects to arrive in New York City at the end of July. His wife of 10 years, Tonia, has been his biggest supporter, both during his struggles and during this trip, following him in an RV. Along the way, she’s connected with other military wives, she said.

Both said there are many service members who won’t seek help because they’re afraid a diagnosis will cost them their security clearance and their jobs. “All I can do is say there is life after military life, after combat,” he said. He plans to leave from the Lynnhaven Boat Ramp today (Saturday June 18, 2016).

Article from The Virginian-Pilot

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