KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – Ken Brock was 1,778 miles off his intended course from Florida to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, on Mother’s Day.
But he’s determined to complete his walk, even if it means missing his self-imposed deadline of July 3.
The U.S. Army veteran was unexpectedly diverted from South Dakota by the Veteran’s Administration from his mission to walk from Keystone Heights to Idaho to bring awareness to Wounded Warrior Project programs that assist with the treatments of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Without warning, and without exception, the VA ordered Brock back to Florida last week for an evaluation for benefits. Although he explained he already had walked 1,778 miles from Amvets
Post 86 in Keystone Heights and was in Wanblee, S.D. since Feb. 1 to support WWP, the veteran’s group didn’t waver.
Get home or go without benefits.
So much for helping veterans.
Despite being overwhelmed and underfunded, the VA does a lot of good work. I know. My father spent the last two years of his life at the Emory L. Bennett Veterans Nursing Home at Daytona Beach. He was a retired U.S. Air Force navigator who suffered a debilitating stroke, and his care at Daytona Beach was exceptional.
Brock’s problems probably weren’t with the caregivers. It more likely started with the pencil-pushers who seem to be more interested in balance lines, red tape and quarterly reports than common sense. There’s no other explanation why the VA would take such a drastic step to crush the momentum of a positive gesture that’s meant so much to our veterans.
The VA responded last week to our questions, only to say they can’t talk about their patients. Well, Brock did talk, and he wanted answers during his evaluation last Thursday.
“I’m going ask why, all of a sudden, they singled me out,” Brock said ahead of his VA appointments. “Maybe he knows; maybe he doesn’t. Someone has the answers.”
The fear is the VA misconstrued Brock’s plan to walk 2,650 miles as a sign that he no longer suffers from PTSD. In reality, the walk is a form of therapy, Brock said.
“They don’t know I still suffer with nightmares,” Brock said.
Brock was forced to drive back to Keystone Heights last week. He had doctor appointments last Monday and Tuesday in Sarasota, followed by his evaluation on Thursday. After that, he drove back to South Dakota to continue his journey.
With only 928 miles to go.
“I’ll be honest with you, with everything that’s happened, it crossed my mind to quit,” Brock said. “But I’m going back. I’m going to finish. It’s a personal goal I have to complete.
“With everything else that’s going on in my life, I needed a way to get away from everything. The world was closing in on me. I needed to get away from it all. The walk for Wounded Warrior Project got me out by myself, away from everybody. It was for two reasons – giving back [to WWP] and for therapy. That’s why I won’t let them [VA] stop me.”
Brock resumed his walk on May 21.
Brock got help from his brother, Terry Brock, to get back on schedule. Terry drove back with his brother to Wanblee, and he will follow for two weeks with Ken’s cart and service dog Pam in the car so the 53-year-old can make up lost time.
He knows getting there by July 3 will be difficult, if not impossible, since the final 225 miles will be through the Rocky Mountains.
“I won’t have to push that heavy cart or worry about Pam for two weeks,” Brock said. “I will be able to make up a lot of time. I may be able to make up for the lost week [for the VA]. Getting to Idaho by July 3 is probably out of the question. I’d have to average about 30 miles a day, and that’s going to be really impossible in the Rockies.”
But Ken Brock won’t be stopped – either by the challenges of the Rocky Mountains or the bureaucratic nonsense of the VA.