WANBLEE, S.D. – Ken Brock wasn’t detoured by consecutive weekends of deadly tornadoes in Alabama during his journey from Keystone Heights to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to raise awareness to the …
WANBLEE, S.D. – Ken Brock wasn’t detoured by consecutive weekends of deadly tornadoes in Alabama during his journey from Keystone Heights to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to raise awareness to the programs at Wounded Warrior Project that help veterans deal with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Several rounds of violent thunderstorms didn’t turn him away. Neither did flooding in Missouri or Nebraska, or wind, rain and snow during the past week as he pushes through The Badlands.
On Tuesday, however, the 53-year-old U.S. Army veteran ran into a force more formidable, and less forgiving, than Mother Nature – the Veteran’s Administration.
Already 1,722 miles into his five-month-plus trek, Brock will have to return to Florida next week for a random, yet mandatory, evaluation of services. Failure to appear could result in the loss of his VA benefits.
“That really threw a monkey wrench into the trip,” Brock said. “I told them what I was doing. I asked if I could reschedule. They said no. This is a one-two-three punch.”
The appointment wasn’t scheduled before Brock left Amvets Post 86 in Keystone Heights on Feb. 1. In fact, the VA Clinic only gave him a nine-day notice and was unwilling to change his unexpected appointment, although his sacrifices during the last three months have brought tremendous awareness, attention and resources to the same veterans the VA is entrusted to help.
“I got a call [Tuesday] and they said I had to be back on the 16th,” Brock said. “They didn’t care.”
Brock was forced to return to Sioux Falls, S.D., late Tuesday. He rented a car and started the 1,520-mile drive home. After the evaluation in Wildwood, he said he will drive back to South Dakota and finish his walk.
“I have my cart and [service dog] Pam, so I had to drive,” he said. “I couldn’t leave it up there. I had to put everything in the car. But I will be back. I’m going to finish this. It may not be by July 4 like I planned, but we’ll see. I’m going to come up here and continue on.”
Brock is concerned the VA may have mistaken his commitment to completing the 2,650-mile walk as a sign he no longer suffers with PTSD.
“I bet that’s what they’re thinking,” he said. “They don’t see I’m still having nightmares. They don’t know how difficult this is. This walk isn’t a cure. It’s a distraction. It’s a way to deal with it.
“I’m finding out there are good people in this world. I’m trying to bring life to something that’s good and they want to take it from me. If so, that’s all right. I’ll land on my feet.”
Calls to the Veteran’s Administration for comment weren’t returned.
Rep. Ted Yoho (R-3), whose district includes Keystone Heights, said he will ask the VA for an explanation, saying, “I’m going to stand for this veteran.”
Brock completed another 100 miles last week, which left him only 928 miles short of his destination, and many of those miles were completed in a winter mix of rain, snow and wind.
“It was awful,” he said. “I had to push the side of my tent to keep the wind from caving it in. Finally, I got so tired, I gave up and went to sleep. It’s been freezing and raining just about every day. But I’ve kept going.”
Until the VA unexpectedly stopped him.