Helping Veterans through Off-Road Therapy by Deven Merriman

My name is Deven Merriman. I am a United States Army retiree and currently a student at Pikes Peak State College. I am the owner and founder of a social cause known as the “VeteranSuicideAwarenessJeep.” Our motto is #NeverGiveInToTheWarWithin. I have been helping veterans for about 7 years. 

I myself am a disabled veteran, I have a level II Traumatic Brain Injury and severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I served two combat tours, for about 25 months overseas, one trip to Iraq and one to Afghanistan. My highest awards and decorations are an Army Accommodation Medal and Combat Infantrymen’s Badge for being engaged in direct enemy combat, and my service overseas. 

I, like most, never understood how coming home from war would be the hardest thing most of us would face. Unfortunately to this day I have lost three brothers from my Heavy Weapons Infantry Company to suicide. My first brother SSG Daniel Stein took his own life in 2017, about 7 years after we got back from our last deployment to Afghanistan. SSG Kiel Haberland took his life in February 2021, and SGT Robert “Clint” Tolson who was one of my Soldiers, took his life in March 2021.

Unlike most of my brothers in my company, I received a medically discharge in 2012. Since I am essentially adopted, I had no place to go and selfishly went off on a self-care mission, isolating myself from everyone I knew or loved.

It wasn’t until after I lost my bunk mate, my fellow squad leader and Brother Daniel Stein in 2017 did I realize I could try and make a difference with veterans, just by being there for them, sharing how I survived my suicide attempt or helping them get some off-road therapy in their life. It might not be for everyone, but it is one of the hobbies that was a lot of fun. Tinkering on my vehicle also helped keep my mind busy. I enjoy building my Jeep and taking it out into the woods and hitting some gnarly trails that will get my adrenaline pumping. That became one of my therapies, and now something I call “off-road therapy.”

After losing Daniel, I realized two things: the first thing was all the time Daniel had reached out to me to talk about Hunter, my service dog, or my Jeep, were his subtle cries for help. It kills me that I didn’t see them or know the right questions to ask to help Daniel. The second thing I learned is that I could possibly make a difference. So, in Daniel’s memory, and to honor all of our fallen veterans, I decided to take my Jeep and build it into a Cause to combat the veteran suicide rate through free off-road therapy for any disabled combat veteran.