VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – A former Navy SEAL in Virginia Beach is working hard to raise awareness and funds to combat the suicide rate among veterans and first responders.
Monty Heath, a husband and father of two sons, just wrapped up a cross-country trek, cycling from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland as part of an eight-person relay team. The team name is Team Aligned Alliance, and they took part in the Race Across America beginning June 18.
Heath is now back at his Sandbridge home and proud to have accomplished their goal, but he says much more still needs to be done.
On his fundraising page, Heath wrote, “I've had my own suicidal thoughts. I’ve had too many friends leave the planet this way. Since I initially wrote this ask letter, we've had two more suicides within the SEAL community alone.”
“We can do better, and we’re going to do better,” Heath said.
The former SEAL says there are programs that are working but he wants to see them expand and improve.
Heath says he thrives in high-stress situations, spent 11 years in the military, and was deployed to Afghanistan multiple times as a SEAL.
"Veterans and first responders experience a lot of trauma. You know? It’s a lot of death and destruction and body parts and gross stuff that doesn’t ever leave your mind," Heath told News 3.
The Virginia Beach man says he is no longer on active duty, and he has since turned his passion toward helping others. He has managed a seasonal ranch and a horse sanctuary and also became a Special Olympics ski instructor. He said a young girl named Maria, who has Down syndrome, helped teach him about empathy and inclusivity.
"She definitely helped change me. All my friends were SEALs and super capable, cool guys, but who’s taking care of the little 11-year-old girl with Down syndrome? Who’s making sure she has a good time and she feels included in the activities that we all have going on at this beautiful mountain?" Heath asked.
His team that participated in Race Across America is raising funds for Guardian Revival, a non-profit organization that provides resources for veterans including a program that matches them with a service dog or companion dog.
For more information or to donate to the effort, click here.