Booster

Mountains can wait as climber, senator collaborate

Clintonville resident works with Sherrod Brown on act to help care for veterans with mental-health issues

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Michael Fairman recently had a good week.

A great week would be if the piece of legislation U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) introduced after it was presented to him by the Clintonville resident eventually becomes law.

"We need to work together to find solutions that help us better care for all of our veterans," Brown's office wrote in a recent email. "That is why I am proud to have introduced legislation based on solutions brought to me by an Ohio veteran, Michael Fairman. Mr. Fairman believes that by better documenting soldiers' injuries in real time, the Department of Defense can help service members and veterans receive proper care and treatment.

"Michael, the cofounder of the Summit for Soldiers Post-Traumatic Stress/Suicide Awareness Campaign, is dedicated to raising awareness about PTS, destigmatizing the injury and helping veterans recover."

Brown said he wrote the Significant Event Tracker Act based on the input of Fairman and other veterans about how to document combat injuries.

Fairman, now a freelance photojournalist but at one time a Navy corpsman with the U.S. Marine Corps, and Army veteran Steve Redenbaugh started Summit for Soldiers to heighten awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder and the inordinate number of veterans who take their own lives. Fairman and Redenbaugh have attempted to climb the highest peaks in all 50 states and, later, the seven highest ones in the world.

Fairman's attempt to scale Mount Everest, the most famous peak of them all, was thwarted by the tragic deaths April 18 of 16 Nepali guides working for climbing teams.

"We pretty much did everything we could to climb, but teams were leaving," Fairman said. "Everyone finally left. It pretty much turned all the teams around."

The experienced climber said he hopes to go back to Everest in 2015 and "give it another shot."

In the near future, Fairman said Summit for Soldiers will set its sights on the highest peak in Kentucky, but for now, the Significant Event Tracker Act is on the front burner.

Fairman said he was able to accompany Brown on visits to Veterans of Foreign Wars posts all over Ohio to garner support for the measure. At stop after stop, Fairman said, veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam and other conflicts told him, "Man, if I had had this back in my time, it would have helped me so much."

"For the actual veterans to see the value of it was pretty exciting," Fairman said. "It makes it worthwhile to serve in a country like this."

The act is designed ease the record-keeping burden on veterans, providing service members with an individualized document detailing when they were exposed to events, such as roadside bombings, that might later be connected to "invisible injuries," according to Brown's announcement. The document will help military officers better diagnose and treat service members with mental-health concerns, the announcement said.

"The biggest obstacle with this tracker is, it's so simple, people overlook it," Fairman said. "It's cost-effective. It has so much benefit and very little, if any, downside that we've come across.

"It just uses the system ... all the things that are really there. The only real expense is for someone to write a database."

Fairman encouraged people to visit his nonprofit organization's website, summitforsoldiers.org, to learn more about the Significant Event Tracker Act as well as find links to contact members of the U.S. Senate and voice support for the measure in order to help "keep this thing moving forward," he said.

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