Veterans Administration figures show seven to eight percent of the population go through post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at some point in their lives. Among veterans, those rates rise from 20 to 30 percent.
June is PTSD Awareness Month and a group created here in our area is spreading a unique approach to treating PTSD.
Friday is set-up day at the GNCC Snowshoe race. The Vigilant Vet Racing team readies their "bikes," as the racing ATVs are called, and prepare themselves for one tough course.
"It's brutal," team captain Sam Lamp said. "There's a lot of rocks and mud on this one."
The course at Snowshoe beats the riders up, but for the Vigilant Vet Racing team it's the only time they can relax.
"You find your calm," team member Allen Carpenter said. "You just do your thing and you go home and you prep for the next race."
VVR founder Rick Proctor discovered the connection between PTSD and GNCC about two years ago when his PTSD symptoms got worse.
"Before, I was an avid football fan and I would go to WVU games, I had season tickets. You know, Pirates games, Steeler games, but the crowds started getting to me," Proctor said.
A friend convinced him to try a GNCC race, though, where the crowds are spread out and more manageable. Soon, Proctor realized racing gives a sense of purpose and order to help ease the anxiety often found with PTSD.
"You finish the race, you have a huge sense of accomplishment," Proctor said. "It really boosts a veterans self-confidence and it takes away that edge, that hopelessness that a veteran with PTSD often experiences."
That hopelessness is likely a part of the reason behind the 22 veteran suicides we see in the U.S. every day.
Studies also show more than 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans have PTSD but it is widely believed that the actual number is much higher as many cases go unreported. Also, studies show half of those with PTSD do not seek any type of treatment. Of the remaining 50 percent, only half get "minimally adequate" care.
Part of the VVR team's new mission is to help people connect those statistics with names and faces and be there for one another.
"Talking to a vet, fellow racers, people like that they understand, they can relate and it gets you through," Carpenter said.
Many veterans feel closer to other vets that they may have never met before than civilians who just can't share that understanding of service and sacrifice.
Most of the VVR team had never met in person before their first race of the series a few months ago.
"Now we're like a big family and talk about anything and stuff that we wouldn't normally talk to other people about, you know what I mean," Lamp said."
The GNCC organizers support the team and now recognize veterans before the main races.
"To have Rick and the Vigilant Vet team here is very special," said race organizer Tim Cotter. "It's helped us understand and better learn of just how many veterans participate in GNCC."
Proctor founded the team a year ago and it now has 10 members from Colorado, Ohio, South Carolina, West Virginia, and other states. What makes them anxious now is the time between races.
"I'm like 'oh my gosh what am I going to do?' I'm not going to see all my buddies," Carpenter said. "It'll be alright. My phone will be blowing up."
GNCC organizers estimated there would be more than 1,600 racers and 6,000 spectators at the weekend's events.
"We had plenty of new Veterans stop by, say hello and ask about our programs," Proctor said in an email Monday.
VVR raffled off an ATV hood autographed by GNCC Pro riders, raising money for their 501C3 application.