A wave of wounded veterans has stretched our military's medical system to the point of dysfunction.
Inundated with injured troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, military medical board cases have gone from 6,500 in 2002, when the war began, to 11,000 in 2006. Significantly higher survival rates on today's battlefield are part of the cause as wounded soldiers who would have died in previous wars are pulling through, though many with life-changing injuries.
With such stress on the system, it's not surprising to read stories of substandard medical care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The firings and resignations of officers, including Army Secretary Francis Harvey and Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, are the first steps in fixing the underlying problem.
Army veteran Ed Acevedo of St. Augustine experienced the VA system first hand. He describes the quality of VA medical service as "the luck of the draw in terms of where you are."
At the VA Medical Hospital in Manhattan, he found people helpful. He had routine visits, X-rays, and surgery without a glitch. In Atlanta, he received good healthcare, but in Florida, he received a form letter from the VA outpatient clinic that he could possibly be seen within a month. When he called, he learned it would take eight or nine months, and he would have to re-enroll in the system.
Acevedo is savvy, well educated and resourceful. A West Point graduate, he served in roles from platoon leader through company commander during his seven years in the Army. He earned a master's in business administration degree from Columbia University and then worked as an equity trader on Wall Street. Most recently, he ran a company in the Middle East to develop infrastructure in Iraq.
Surely someone with his background should be able to navigate the VA system. Yet it's March - six months later - and he's still on a waiting list with no appointment scheduled.
What does this portend for the young soldier injured in Iraq or the elderly disabled vet when someone like Acevedo continues to hit brick walls?
Acevedo wanted to make a difference. He decided to fund his own campaign, the Fallen Heroes' Ride Across America, to raise money and awareness for disabled veterans. The ride, which involves cycling from St. Augustine to San Diego, a 3,159 mile route without detours, begins March 23.
Asked about his campaign's financial goals, Acevedo said he researched and chose seven charities, some he's worked with, that provide help for severely injured active duty military, disabled veterans and children with a parent killed in action. All monies raised go directly to these charities. He set $10,000 per fund as an initial goal, and as he rides he'll post his journal online, communicate with each of the foundations, stop to talk with people, raise awareness for the cause and create what he called a "Pied Piper effect."
Publicity, though, has not necessarily been a good thing for the Secretary of the Army and commander of Walter Reed. But then the recent mandate for a "full and immediate review" of all 1,400 military hospitals and clinics might just be the beginning of a process to overhaul and update a system that has failed many of our servicemen and women.
Army veteran Ed Acevedo will cycle across America to honor and help disabled veterans. Learn more on his website at www.bike4vets.com