In the Service of Others

Yesterday at The Wall, we met a young veteran who is about to undertake a 5-month hike in an effort to raise awareness about homelessness among veterans. Zach Day started following us on Twitter and when we noticed he was at The Wall, we went to say hello. The Indiana native served a combat tour in southern Afghanistan from July 2010 to July 2011.

He recently completed his active duty obligation while stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Some of his friends suffered psychological wounds from their combat tours and Zach experienced first hand the challenges of transitioning from military to civilian life. The military, Department of Veterans Affairs and other groups offer programs to veterans, but some fall through the cracks. The number of homeless veterans is disproportionate to the general population and when Zach learned that one in every three homeless males is a veteran, he decided to act. Now he’s on his way to Maine where he’ll embark on a five-month hike of the Appalachian Trail to help raise awareness of homeless veterans.

According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, the Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs estimate that more than 67,000 veterans are homeless on any given night nationwide. Only eight percent of the general population can claim veteran status, but nearly one-fifth of the homeless population are veterans, according to NCHV. Nearly half of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam era. Two-thirds served for at least three years and one-third were stationed in a war zone, according to NCHV statistics. About 1.5 million other veterans are considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, or poor living conditions.

Zach is hiking 2,200 miles in hopes of raising awareness and raising funds to support the Hoosier Veteran Assistance Foundation of Indiana. Zach has developed relationships with the people at HVAF, in his home state, and said he hopes to help them continue their work.

You can follow Zach’s hike on his site or follow him on Twitter. If you’re in the area, he’d love some company, so join him for some of the hike if you can. We’re thinking of gathering a group to join him for a few days when he hikes near the D.C. area. Let us know if you’re interested.