A U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs report shows 11-20% of military veterans who served in combat in the Middle East and Vietnam suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in a given year, and an estimated 30% of Vietnam War veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime.
A group of TSA employees at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) is rallying around veterans in Michigan through a program called Foundation 14 (F14). DTW Explosives Specialist Eugene Simionescu said the program’s goal is to bring hope and purpose back to combat veterans suffering from PTSD through motorcycle riding.
Simionescu is part of a 10-member TSA Veterans Committee at DTW committed to supporting military veterans at the airport and in the community through various programs, including F14.
“The foundation determines how best to help combat veterans deal with their PTSD if the veteran accepts the help,” said Simionescu. “The number one way is to talk with the veteran’s family, see if a motorcycle and riding is a good fit for the veteran. Next, a bike is selected for the veteran. An F14 event is then held with foundation supporters and friends and family of the veteran receiving the motorcycle.”
Simionescu said organized PTSD motorcycle rides have a profound impact on the veterans.
“Being with each other [on the bike rides], they always end up laughing, smiling and having a good time,” he said. “Eventually, their PTSD anxiety fades as the veterans start to feel that wherever they go, everything is going to be okay.”
Simionescu said it’s all about being part of a community, noting, “F14 provides PTSD combat veterans community, purpose and the drive to keep moving. F14 is very passionate about veteran suicide and believes one PTSD suicide is one too many.”
“The focus of the Veterans Committee is to honor the veterans who continue to serve DHS and to get the word out to our nation’s veterans that TSA and Homeland Security is a great place to pick up on your career where the military left off,” he said. “The committee seeks out organizations in our community that help veterans and then spreads awareness and provides opportunities for our DHS veterans to go out and get involved with these organizations.”
The DTW Veterans Committee shares suicide prevention awareness at DTW and other Michigan airports and plays a key role in so many lives.
“[Our nation’s military conflicts] often leave our veterans with PTSD who may be inclined to become one of the 22 veterans who commit suicide every day,” said Simionescu, also a suicide awareness prevention instructor and referral contact at DTW. “Our veterans require community with likeminded people who they can relate to and see there are reasons to keep going.”
He said as part of their PTSD, many veterans suffer suicidal thoughts and anger and rage issues that may destroy their families and lead to long-term depression.
A former TSA colleague, who was a combat veteran, inspired Simionescu to help. While in Iraq, the man’s unit was ambushed and hit by an IED. A member of his unit lost her leg and was later determined to be a perfect candidate for a motorcycle.
“Personally, it is needed medicine for me,” Simionescu reflected. “To be part of the help I am in need of is self-healing and spiritual rebuilding that reinforces confidence in myself that I can continue to be a positive force in our community. Our veterans can receive the recognition and quality of life they deserve by our actions. Our committee sees that their military service does not go unrecognized. They are spotlighted and given the opportunity to excel.”
Simionescu encourages all of us to step up and help our communities when the opportunity exists.
“If you plan on volunteering, try to see what the actual need is, look inside yourself and see if you’re passionate about it,” he said. “People will be able to see if you truly care for the cause. With F14, it’s not about the bike. It’s the community.”
Simionescu adds, “The DTW Veterans Committee exists because our federal security director truly cares for those who have served our country and continue to serve. Being supported and feeling the support is truly amazing.”