'Dancing with the Stars' Contestant Visits Alabama Veterans

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Edward Clark, a retired sergeant with the 25th Infantry Division, shook Noah Galloway's hand Monday at the Tuscaloosa Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Clark, who sat in a wheelchair with a blanket covering his leg, didn't take long to realize who Galloway was.

"I've seen you before," said Clark, a Vietnam veteran. "You dance pretty good."

Galloway is widely known for his skills on the ABC show "Dancing with the Stars." Despite losing an arm and leg in 2005 after an improvised explosive device detonated during his second tour of duty in Iraq, Galloway finished third on the dance competition show along with his dancing partner, Sharna Burgess.

Clark told Galloway he served from 1968 to 1970 in Vietnam, where he handled explosives. Over the years, Clark lost one of his legs because of gangrene and suffered from exposure to Agent Orange, a herbicide used by the Army in Vietnam.

"I have no hard feelings," Clark said. "I'm just glad to be alive."

Before leaving, Galloway thanked Clark for his service.

"I appreciate you wearing the uniform," said Galloway, who served in the U.S. Army from 2000 to 2005 and earned the Purple Heart medal after multiple tours in Iraq.

Galloway's visit to the Tuscaloosa VA, which serves roughly 16,000 veterans in west Alabama, was part of National Salute to Veteran Patients Week, a time celebrated by VA centers nationwide that focuses on veterans receiving treatment.

"It's important to me because I'm a veteran and I would like to think that if I ended up in the situation that a lot of these veterans are in, I would be taken care of," Galloway said. "It means a lot to me to see how these veterans are living."

Damon Stevenson, public information officer for the Tuscaloosa VA, said visits during National Salute to Veteran Patients Week go a long way toward making veterans feel appreciated.

"They need to be reminded about how much people value their service," Stevenson said. "They need to be reminded about how much other veterans and people in the community value their service to our nation."

After being injured in Iraq, Galloway began his rehabilitation at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C., which he said provided him with excellent care. Galloway continues his treatments at Birmingham VA Medical Center.

Galloway's visit came at a time when numerous problems have plagued the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, from veterans who have died waiting for care to mismanaged hospitals nationwide.

In Alabama, VA services have received a considerable amount of scrutiny. According to a report published by the Montgomery Advertiser in 2014, more than 2,000 patient X-rays and other images went unread over the course of five years. In April 2015, the Associated Press reported that the VA locations in Montgomery and Tuskegee were worst and second worst for completing appointments within 30 days of all VA medical centers from September 2014 to February 2015.

Alabama legislators have worked over the last couple of years to decrease wait times and hold VA hospitals accountable, but Galloway said the community needs to be involved.

"I think it's easy to point fingers on what can be improved," Galloway said. "Are there some improvements that can be made? Yes, but I think that us being involved and being part of the VA and what's going on is how we are going to see these programs."

Stevenson said Galloway was the perfect person for this year's National Salute a Veteran Patients Week. In past years, the Tuscaloosa VA has welcomed numerous personalities to visit, such as University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban.

"The fact that he (Galloway) is a veteran and he has a mission to increase awareness of veterans and their needs, we thought it was very fitting for him to come because they look at him as an example of how you can overcome limitations with injuries," Stevenson said.

Galloway said his exposure on "Dancing with the Stars" has given him a voice to talk about his real passion: those who have served in the military.

"As a veteran that is in the public eye, I think it is my duty to do as much as I can to push more for veterans," he said. "I want to push as hard as I can for better programs that improve the lives of veterans."

Galloway's association with the military will continue this spring with the debut of the TV show, "American Grit," on Fox. The show, hosted by wrestler John Cena, will feature Galloway and other veterans mentoring 16 people competing in a series of military-grade challenges.

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Information from: The Tuscaloosa News, http://www.tuscaloosanews.com

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This article was written by Drew Taylor from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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