An Army veteran from Killeen, TX walked 1,500 miles from his home to Washington, DC to seek VA care.
After leaving the Army in 2004 with combat service in Iraq, Amari Williams filed a claim with the VA for conditions that included PTSD, anxiety, depression, loss of hearing, and chronic pain. The first claim was lost by the VA and 2 subsequent ones were denied after the VA said his conditions were not service-connected.
Tired of being denied, he loaded his backpack, and on July 27 said goodbye to his family in Texas and began walking to Washington, DC to make his case known.
"The first 10 miles it was just me - an angry vet," Williams said. That anger softened with each painful step, his trip took a turn that surprised even him. Naming his mission '1 Vet,1 Cause', changed his journey into something else, a cause. Each step he took as that 1 Vet was a step for all those veterans who had been denied or who felt the VA system had failed them.
Williams said his journey was filled with an “over pouring of generosity” from people he met on the way and others who heard about his story and reached out to help. Korean and Afghanistan veterans followed him on Twitter and Facebook providing moral support, cheering him on when the road seemed endless.
Although he was originally worried about being a "black man walking across the South,” Williams said he had no experiences with racism or the tensions recently reported in the news. Along the 1,500 mile trip, he estimates he received rides for about 400 miles due to weather or other conditions. He says the kindness he received from strangers was overwhelming. Law enforcement officers gave him rides and perfect strangers bought him food and paid for hotel rooms.
After 3 weeks of traveling he arrived in DC on August 14 and visited the VA office from 8 - 4 every day. Not much was being done by the VA to help him until a local TV news crew showed up on Thursday and began reporting on his story from the lobby of the building. Once the cameras showed up, the office's outreach director came down to talk to Williams and vowed to "do his best to get him help".
That same day, the VA made a decision on his case and explained to him exactly why he wasn't qualified for benefits.
When contacted by Military.com for this story, Mr. Williams said "I accept [the VA's decision], it just took 11 years for someone at the VA to tell me why." Williams also says he hasn't given up his fight for fellow veterans, "I walked to show support for my fellow veterans who are not receiving the care and benefits they deserve. I also wanted to know exactly how I can help the veterans, who deserve benefits and healthcare, receive them."