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Local veteran carries American flag through Nixa for mental health awareness

(KY3)
Published: Jul. 3, 2020 at 9:40 PM CDT
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This holiday weekend is a time to reflect on the freedoms this country guarantees and the sacrifices of those who make our freedoms possible. One local man made sacrifices of his own and is now on a new mission.

Several times a week, Zach Seiden throws on a backpack and an American flag and sets out on a walk around Nixa. He doesn't just haul those items with him. The U.S. Army veteran, and active Reserve member, also carries a weight many of us can't imagine, but one he's dedicated to all of us understanding.

Unlike a stroll, with a clear start and end point, Zach Seiden will tell you the reason he's walking doesn't have a clear conclusion.

"A lot of these guys sign the dotted line to put their life on the line to protect this country and I feel like it gets overlooked that they, too, battle with stuff coming back," he said.

That's why the former U.S. Army Combat Engineer started regular walks through his hometown of Nixa last year, carrying a rucksack and an American flag.

His route through Nixa is not always the same, but his message never changes. He wants to raise awareness for veterans' mental health.

"I've known people who have struggled and I had no idea," Seiden said. "They didn't talk to anybody or get any help and it finally just took the best of them."

Addie Blankenship sees veterans come into the NAMI Hope Center in Springfield every week. They're seeking help with post traumatic stress disorder, depression and substance use disorders. Others just need someone to talk to.

"There's this code of being so brave and they do so much for us. The ones I've talked to are just afraid to share that weakness," Blankenship said.

She said that shame could be what causes former servicemen and women to end their own lives. On average, in 2017, nearly 17 U.S. veterans died by suicide every day, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

"We do kind of forget that freedom isn't free and that there was a very big price to pay, and some of those men and women are still paying that price," Blankenship said.

Seiden said veterans tend to stay strong for those around them, and might need someone to reach out.

"Even if they seem happy, just continue to check on them, because you'd never really know what they're battling with deep down," he said.

To those who are struggling, he said, keep fighting, just as he'll keep walking through a journey with no clear end, but a path that's finally clear.

"There's people out here who are willing to help them, whatever they're going through," Seiden said.

If you are a veteran in need of help, or are concerned about someone you know, call the Veterans' Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, press 1.

For more ways to connect with the hotline, click

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For information about veterans' suicide prevention, and how to talk about suicide with a veteran, click

.

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