ORLANDO, Fla. – A retired U.S. Army veteran is raising awareness about suicide, specifically among veterans. Jimmy Novak recently finished a walk across the country as part of his mission.
"Not only am I a veteran-- I retired after 21 years in the Army-- I also suffer from anxiety and depression myself," Novak said.
Novak reached Orlando Tuesday after he walked almost 2,800 miles. The veteran started his trek March 22 from from Dupont, Washington, two months after he retired from the Army.
"The hardest part about it hasn't been the walking itself, it's been the heat and the humidity which has been just unbelievable," he said. "It's actually quite a bit better down here in Florida than it was in the Midwest."
Novak kept a steady pace throughout his journey. He walked 3mph, pushing a stroller holding his belongings across each state.
"I have my hiking bag and it's got my camping gear, so my sleeping bag, my tent, my camp stove, my hygiene kit, my changes of clothes, my first aid stuff. Everything that I need to live is inside the hiking bag," the father of four said.
During his walk, he encountered strangers who helped his cause in any way possible. Grateful for their overwhelming kindness, he said some strangers even went the extra mile.
"I once pulled into somebody's driveway to ask for water and not only did they refill my water they also took me for a meal at the local restaurant," Novak said.
"Really everybody that I've met has connected to the cause in some way. If they're veterans, of course they understand because they're going through their own journey. Non-veterans have also connected because (it) turns out that suicide and depression are not a veteran-specific problem."
In 2018, the World Health Organization reported close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year worldwide. That's about one person every 40 seconds.
"Seeking help and getting the help that you need is very important to going on and having a fulfilled life in the end," Novak said.
After five months on the road, Novak reached his final destination: Walt Disney World.
"I hear it's the happiest place on Earth," he said. "It's not really about the destination; there's no 'this is where we're done.' It's all about the journey -- taking one step at a time and continuing to make progress in the right direction."
If you are a veteran or a loved one concerned about a veteran, connect with the Veterans Crisis Line. You can call at 1-800-273-8255 or text 838255.