David Dibble put his heart into raising awareness for soldiers battling post traumatic stress disorder – literally.
The new resident to Culpeper began a walk across the country June 8, 2016 to raise awareness for fellow veterans and has suffered three heart attacks along the way.
Dibble, who also suffers from PTSD, said the journey was good for his soul, but it was a daunting task talking to veterans about their struggles.
Trekking across country, he hauled a 75-pound backpack and a gallon of water, but it wasn’t just his physical possessions that weighed on him.
“They were honest,” Dibble said of his talks with veterans. “Without a shadow of a doubt, it was the most emotional journey of my life, hearing their stories. I experienced suicides on the journey, from people I just talked to.
“Hearing all these stories in every town, the weight of those stories were heavier than my backpack.”
In one town, he talked to one soldier for eight hours. He had just lost his best friend the night before. They had grown up together, enlisted together and fought in Iraq together. The soldier was at his friend’s house the night before and left to go home. By the time he pulled into his driveway, his wife was there with the sad news his friend had just taken his life. It was those stories that drove Dibble to help veterans find help.
“Go to your American Legion, the VFW, open up to a fellow veteran,” Dibble said. “They’ve been there and done it, they could be suffering too. Probably the biggest thing a veteran can do to help himself, is to help another veteran. I know it helped me.”
A Navy veteran who served from 1982-86, seeing time in Grenada and Beirut, Dibble traveled for 12-15 miles a day making it a point to seek out veterans along the way and also trying to connect with judges and district attorneys to talk about establishing a veterans court in the communities he visited.
A veterans court, he explained, gives veterans a chance to meet with judges and have their charges reduced or sent off to rehab or probation instead of serving time in jail. He said a majority of veterans come home and find themselves in trouble with controlled substances and the veterans court gives them a second chance.
“Instead of pushing them through different channels, they treat them normal citizens and lock them up,” Dibble said. “In this case, we’re locking up heroes. So I push in each jurisdiction for the veterans courts.”
There is only one veterans court in Virginia, in Fairfax County, but Dibble said Spotsylvania County has been pushing hard for one.
The drive to help veterans find help is what has kept him going, even through three heart attacks. He had his last one when he arrived in Denver a couple of months ago, and it has postponed him continuing his journey until next spring.
“I always asked if I was better off than when I walked in here,” Dibble said. “Then I push on.”
He said the doctors tell him he should stick around for cardio rehab, but he says with a laugh that walking across the country should be enough cardio.
He camps most of the time, which can be dangerous – noting that he was nearly held up before offering the young man some coffee and conversation – but he also makes it a point to get a hotel at least once a week.
“That was more for comfort and an effort on my part not to feel homeless,” Dibble said.
Before he heads out over the desert, Dibble said that a local welder is going to help build him a sled to haul more water. He had one sled early on, but it was slowing him down and he had to dump it.
He posts updates on his Facebook page and has had many people follow his trek.
“There’s a problem, and my intention is to find a way to help,” Dibble said.