Zilinski Memorial Fund Launches COVID-19 Mental Health Awareness Campaign for Veterans Struggling with PTSD After New Jersey Veteran Loses His Battle with the Disorder Depression, Anxiety, and Fear Intensify for Veterans with PTSD During Pandemic Restrictions
ADELPHIA, NJ – “It’s devastating that another veteran with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - an amputee who we were working with here in New Jersey – has taken his own life during the quarantine. Rory Hamill was a father of three, a decorated combat hero in the Marines, and a friend. We must do better for our veterans with PTSD, especially now as stay home orders during the pandemic disrupt daily routines desperately needed for them to stay healthy,” said Marion Zilinski, Co-Founder and Board Member of the Lt. Dennis W. Zilinski, II Memorial Fund.
Hamill was a well-known advocate for veterans with PTSD and a motivational speaker for the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office. He openly spoke about his attempted suicide several years ago in an effort to help others cope.
“Support systems are critical for veterans who struggle with PTSD. Telling them they can’t leave their homes, see their friends, go to work, exercise at the gym, and do all the things that help keep them sane is pure torture. They are left with nothing but their own thoughts, which unfortunately, can lead to a downward spiral of depression, anxiety, and fear,” added Zilinski. “Having a service dog can help bring security and comfort to their lives. I want them to know the Zilinski Memorial Fund is here to help them receive that lifeline and connect them to other resources.”
The Lt. Dennis W. Zilinski, II Memorial Fund sponsors trained service dogs to help disabled American veterans with PTSD overcome their struggles. To date, the Memorial Fund has sponsored more than 100 service dogs at a sponsorship of $15,000 per service dog.
PHOTO: Combat Veteran David Crenshaw (from Kearny, NJ) and his service dog Doc
Combat Veteran David Crenshaw of Kearny says the pandemic restrictions created the “perfect storm” for his PTSD to intensify. “Three weeks ago, my brother passed away suddenly. COVID-19 didn’t allow my family and me to grieve, as we were not permitted to have a service. It brought me right back to losing my mother four years ago. Death is a trigger for me after witnessing so much carnage during combat. I felt hopeless, lost, angry, and irritable… all common symptoms of PTSD. Being stuck inside made it worse. Normally, I turn to physical activity to alleviate the symptoms, but the pandemic restrictions made it impossible. Then came the insomnia, depression, night terrors, and anxiety attacks,” Crenshaw said. “It became difficult to get out of bed. I found myself sleeping into the afternoon.”
Crenshaw added, “What helped me emerge from the darkness was my service dog, Doc, a black Labrador/German Short Hair Pointer mix. Doc tried desperately to get me back to normal. Eventually he succeeded. Truth be told, I don’t know how I would have fared through this quarantine without him. When the sun finally came out, we were able to sprint into the wind with joy. I could see how happy he was, and that happiness was infectious on me.”
Combat Army Veteran William Rommel, a father of four from Brick who also suffers from PTSD, echoed the same sentiment about his service dog, Rio, a Great Dane/Labrador mix. Rommel tried to end his life twice after he returned from Iraq. “My service dog saved my life. Rio has given me purpose. His minimum needs are met by me. He pulls me out of the dark and has taught me how to love.”
PHOTO: Combat Veteran Will Rommel (from Brick, NJ) and his service dog Rio
“Now, the pandemic has us all (veterans with PTSD) on edge. It’s definitely a trigger. I had been going to group therapy every week which was helping my PTSD. We’ve been trying to do it on Zoom, but it’s just not cutting it. I’m grateful to have Rio to calm me. When I’m getting anxious and my heart rate goes up, he places his paw on my chest reminding me to calm down. He also helps keep people away from me and my family with the social distancing. It stresses me right now when people come too close,” added Rommel.
More About the Lt. Dennis W. Zilinski, II Memorial Fund
The Lt. Dennis W. Zilinski, II Memorial Fund was created and founded in 2006 to honor local hero Lt. Dennis W. Zilinski, II, who was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2005. The twenty-three-year-old was a Middletown, New Jersey resident, a Christian Brothers Academy alumnus, and a distinguished West Point graduate. Dennis was a member of the 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division. Since his untimely death, family and friends have united with the Memorial Fund to provide support to improve the morale and welfare
of members of the United States Armed Forces and their families.
Additionally, the Memorial Fund provides scholarships to students at Lt. Zilinski’s alma mater, Christian Brothers Academy and Trinity Hall High School, both in New Jersey. By providing these scholarships, the Memorial Fund invests in the future of high school students who embody the leadership qualities and community spirit of Lt. Zilinski.
To help us raise awareness about all the good we do, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. Donations may be sent to: Lt. Dennis W. Zilinski, II Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 124, Adelphia, NJ 07710 or made online at runwithdennis.org.