Thursday is Veteran's Day in the United States, when Americans honor men and women who have served in the nation's military. Iraq War veteran Troy Yocum is helping veterans and the families of deployed service members by walking across the United States and back again, raising funds along the way. Yocum spoke with our correspondent in Los Angeles as he approached the half-way point of his 11,000-kilometer journey.
Accompanied by his dog, Emmie, Yocum left his home in Kentucky seven months ago. At stops along the way, he draws attention to his cause by beating a drum.
"On April 17th this year, I started walking all the way from Louisville, Kentucky, north to Chicago, down to St. Louis, west all the way down here now to the V.A. [Veterans Administration] hospital right here in Los Angeles, about four miles away from actually touching the ocean," said Yocum.
Standing in front of a newly constructed home for elderly and disabled veterans, Yocum would soon walk the six kilometers to reach the Pacific Ocean - the halfway point of his journey. He says he started the trek to raise funds for a charitable group called Soldiers' Angels.
"We have been able to raise $90,000 to help struggling military families. We have handed out donations along the route. Some people who were not on our route, we have been able to help. But here on Veteran's Day, we are handing out another five donations to military families who are behind on their bills and really had nowhere else to turn to. And that is why I started this walk."
Returning veterans sometimes have had trouble readjusting to civilian life. In the worst cases, veterans have ended up jobless, homeless and addicted to alcohol or drugs.
Advocacy groups say that as many as 200,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. There are federal, state and local government programs to help. But Yocum says the help cannot reach everyone, particularly military families in need. He says his cross-country walk is spreading a message about the need, and about mental health problems among some current and former service members.
"Every single step that I am taking is important because it is not only raising funds, but all these people each day come on board to follow along with the hike across America, and we have been able to reach so many people who had no clue that the military families are struggling, no clue that we have had the all-time highest suicide rate this year, no clue that we have all these homeless veterans," he said.
Yocum has faced challenges on his journey - from an exploding truck tire to close calls with careless drivers. He has also become ill and suffered from kidney inflammation in Colorado. He was hospitalized three days and spent more than a week recuperating. But Yocum regained his strength, crossing Utah and part of Arizona, then traversing Nevada and walking through California's Mojave Desert.
"It has just been an amazing adventure, with lots and lots of hills, lots and lots of obstacles," he said. "I keep getting sick every once in a while and that puts us behind schedule. And then I have to make up those miles."
Yocum posts his progress on the Internet web site drumhike.com. He says he has more than 100,000 followers on his Facebook page.
"So every single picture that I take, every single text that I am updating on our location, it is being viewed by all of these people who care about us and help us," said Yocum. "And I guess that is probably what I did not expect. I did not expect that thousands of people would come out of nowhere to help us complete this mission."
Troy Yocum says he will take the southern route back to the East Coast to avoid the winter weather - crossing Arizona and Texas, and heading up to Boston, before returning to Louisville, Kentucky.