MOUNT PLEASANT — If Michael Roberts sounds a bit angry at times about the treatment of veterans, it's because he can relate to the post-service challenges many have faced.
He is out to increase awareness about the needs of veterans, especially those dealing with post traumatic stress and readjustment issues, and is doing that via an 8,000-mile walk across America.
Roberts, 50, was in Mount Pleasant Sunday night at the home of Peggy Naseman and her sons, Cole and Carter. He was into the eighth day of his walk, which he expects to conclude in a year's time, travelling 20 to 30 miles a day with his 6-month-old dog, Boots, in tow.
Roberts is an 11-year veteran of the armed forces, having served from 1984 to 1995. But he saw three tours of duty in combat zones later as a military security contractor, working under the auspices of the State Department. His assignments inclued Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.
It was on the Iraq tour that his units encountered several improvised explosive devices, including one in 2006 that destroyed the vehicle in which he and his colleagues were travelling.
After finishing his Iraq assignment in 2012, he lived for a couple of years in Canada before moving to Waupaca in 2014 to live with a girlfriend. Waupaca is from where he started his walk.
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The adjustment back home has not always gone well for Roberts, he said.
“I had a really bad experience. I couldn’t find work, a lot of triggers were being set off and I was suicidal,” said Roberts, who added that he attempted suicide twice.
Roberts said he is most frustrated with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He cites delays in scheduling appointments and lack of follow through for veteran patients that have been well documented in the media.
“What should be done is the (VA) should be a military unit. It should not be a civilian-run organization," Roberts said. "It should be completely military and 100 percent active-duty. That’s the only way it’s going to work.”
Roberts' walk came to the attention of Naseman through her contacts with the Camp Hometown Heroes organization, which helps the children of servicemen killed in the line of duty. Naseman's husband, Brian, a member of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, was killed in May 2009 while serving in Iraq.
"We like to do our due diligence because people have done a lot for us," Naseman said. "This is our way to pay it forward.”
During his walk, Roberts will wear a bracelet with Brian Naseman's name on it.
"My husband will be walking with Mike," Naseman said. "He'll be his guardian angel."