For many veterans, the transition from military combat to civilian life is not an easy one. Skills learned in the military may be difficult to transfer to the workforce, and the mental and physical toll of combat may continue even after returning home.
Nate McDonald, Marine Corps veteran and vice president of Irrevertent Warriors, said: “Actually, I was in basic training with my cousin, who passed away two years ago. So it was just an ongoing thing.”
When McDonald returned to civilian life, he was in a dark place. “I found myself isolated. It was him during one of the most difficult times in my life that I went through,” he said. “I had no one to turn to, no one to turn to. It was time.”
His mental health suffered so badly that if he hadn’t had a young daughter at the time, he wasn’t sure he would be here today.
McDonald’s isn’t the only one struggling. Every day, on average, he kills 22 veterans. Irrevertent Warriors are working to change that.
This non-profit organization hosts “Silky” hikes in cities across the country to connect veterans and their families, foster camaraderie and, in turn, improve mental health. That mission is what inspired his JDog Brands CEO Jerry Flanagan, an Army veteran, to work with nonprofits.
The JDog Foundation financially supports Irreverent Warriors, and many of its franchisees step up to fund and participate in hikes in their local communities.
Affectionately referred to as “JDog” by friends and colleagues, Flanagan says hiking brings veterans together with the community.
“It’s really great for mental health, because there’s camaraderie in the military,” Flanagan said. “You work with your brothers and sisters every day.
Flanagan started JDog Junk Removal and Hauling in 2011 as a way to make money before finding a “real job.” “Customers just flocked,” said Flanagan, when his community learned about the vet-owned business. After about a year, the business was doing well and I didn’t have to look for another job. His wife said it would be a good idea, she thought, to franchise.
With 110 franchisees currently operating in nearly 300 territories, Flanagan also launched JDog Carpet Cleaning and Floor Care. JDog Brands has been backed by Philadelphia-based Julip Run Capital since 2014, in which Flanagan still owns a majority stake.
His goal is to bring the veterans’ unemployment rate below 1% (it was 2.7% in June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics). JDog Brands has franchises exclusively for veterans and military families, and opening a junk removal franchise costs between $37,909 for him and $191,447 for him. Flanagan also encourages franchisees to hire veterans.
After leaving the Army, Flanagan tried to go to college, but decided that route wasn’t for him. His transition into society has been rough, to say the least.
“There are 200,000 veterans out of the military each year trying to get a job and compete with people with college degrees,” says Flanagan.
JDog Brands took part in the Ireverent Warriors’ Silky Hike and had the opportunity to experience camaraderie first-hand. “This is a way to bring all the veterans together. They can see each other, see each other, reunite and have a really great time,” Flanagan said.
Veterans join the hike free of charge and are provided with food and water. Silkies (silk men’s undergarments, sometimes called “ranger panties”) were once a military tradition, but are now a nostalgic item for many.
McDonald, before joining the Irrevertent Warriors, had a similar experience on his first hike. The sense of solidarity among the participants was inspiring to him.
He said his previous struggles gave him the power to influence the lives of other veterans and military families.
“I appreciate all these struggles,” McDonald said. “I am grateful for who I am.”
If you or a loved one is having suicidal thoughts, call 988 for help 24 hours a day or 844-689-0445 for free informed care for veterans Please contact Stop Soldier Suicide, an organization dedicated to this.