It's a journey of 2,860 miles from one side of the county to the other, but Tom Zurhellen is taking it one step at a time. 

  • U.S. Navy veteran Tom Zurhellen is walking across the United States to raise awareness and money for issues facing veterans
  • His trip stopped in Buffalo this week, where he admired the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park
  • He hopes to raise more than $40,000

An English professor at Marist College, he started in Portland, Ore. on April 15 and will end up back home in Poughkeepsie, New York on August 23. 

His trip, called VetZero, exploring the United States isn't by car, but rather by foot. He's been walking 22 miles at a time — a number that bears staggering significance.

"Every day in America, 22 of our veterans take their own lives. That's double the rate of civilians," Zurhellen said. 

His trek brought him on Thursday to Buffalo, about 300 miles from his final destination. 

Zurhellen, U.S. Navy veteran, served in the Persian Gulf War. He's now the commander of his local VFW Post in Poughkeepsie. 

"And that experience really opened my eyes to how much our veterans back home really need it, when it came to mental health and financial matters and homelessness," he said.

So he set out to do something about it, raising awareness and money to help veterans near his hometown. As you might imagine, the road hasn't always been smooth. 

"Trying to eke out 22 miles your feet are hurting, your legs are falling apart," he said.

Along the way, he's gone through five pairs of shoes, three walking sticks, had two sprained ankles and lost a pair of toenails. His resolve, however, remains strong.

"It's the struggle of just doing it every day and staying passionate, which luckily I have been," he said.

Zurhellen's mission brought him to the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park, where he took a seat and pondered something that stood out.

"A statue about PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and healing, and a healing bench right next to it," he said. "And I sat on the bench thinking 'This is a great idea. We need to have more of this.'"

And through his trek, he hopes to help provide healing for those who've sacrificed so much.

"Walking really has been instrumental for raising awareness and really finding out all these stories from our veterans,” he said.

While Zurhellen's journey is nearly complete, you can still donate to the cause. So far, he's raised about $28,000. His goal is $40,387, which he says represents the average number of veterans who are homeless in this country on any given night.