|Veteran Petrovick goes the extra mile|
|Written by Becca Brandt|
Heads turned, vehicles slowed, and some people even stopped to try to figure out why a seemingly homeless man was walking down the highway pushing a baby stroller full of supplies. Others just kept driving, eyes forward in an attempt to avoid the situation.
Either way. Nate Petrovick is making his presence known as he treks from California to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness about the mistreatment of veterans. Petrovick’s mission to help other veterans stems from his own personal struggle following his five years of service in the Marine Corps.
Petrovick applied for veteran benefits in August 2013 and was told in November that another 8-10 months were needed to process his application.
During his deployment November 2010 to February 2011, Petrovick worked on C-130s as an engine mechanic. When Petrovick returned from Afghanistan, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.
He was covered by his parents’ health plan, but when he turned 26 this May, he was stuck waiting for a response from Veterans Affairs.
This sparked the idea that it would be faster for him to walk to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C., than to spend the year waiting for his paperwork to be reviewed.
The journey officially began in Ontario, Calif., on March 27, and Petrovick has since been making his way across the country. Along the way, he finds shelter at campgrounds, through couchsurfing.org and occasionally under a bridge or behind a bush. But as he came into Holyoke, he already had an offer for a place to stay.
Veteran Nate Petrovick stayed in Holyoke Sunday night, Aug. 3, as
Kate Sumners first saw Petrovick outside Greeley when she was returning from Loveland Tuesday, July 29. Sumners’ first thought when she saw him shirtless, pushing a stroller of supplies was, “That poor homeless guy.” It wasn’t until Saturday, Aug. 2, that she became truly intrigued when she saw him walking again.
She knew she recognized him when she saw him a second time near Sterling, but it wasn’t until she came across him a third time that she found out his story.
Sumners’ daughter Lauren insisted they stop outside Fleming to give him a hamburger. When they learned the real reason that he was walking, they told him to look them up when he got to Holyoke and they would put him up for the night.
On Sunday, Aug. 3, he reached town and found the Sumners. After resting for the night and taking a little time for a shower and to do laundry, he planned to continue his journey along the northern route of the American Discovery Trail.
Typically, Petrovick walks 25-30 miles a day before finding a place to stop. His goal is to reach Washington, D.C., by Nov. 11, Veterans Day. Coming from California to Arizona and through the Four Corners across Colorado, Petrovick is closer to his destination, but he recognizes getting to D.C. is going to take “some serious walking.”
The adventure so far has been marked with both sadness and triumph. Only a week into the walk, four people were killed at Fort Hood at the hand of Ivan Lopez. For Petrovick, the situation was a very poig-nant reminder of why he set out on his venture in the first place.
Petrovick and Lopez endured many of the same struggles in terms of service, being diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety and depression and trying to cut through the red tape to address mental health situations. “He chose to shoot up a base, and I chose to walk,” said Petrovick.
The goal is to make people aware of the strenuous process required to receive treatment regarding service-related illnesses. As veterans are forced to wait, they are often driven to homelessness, addiction and suicide, according to Petrovick.
As Petrovick’s journey continued, news broke about the Phoenix VA scandal in which several veterans had died awaiting care from the Veterans Health Administration, and his resolve was solidified as more information was manifesting.
In May, Petrovick received word that his request for a discharge upgrade had been denied and he needed to resubmit his other paperwork. One option was to challenge the decision in front of a panel in Washington, D.C.
According to his blog, “This is exactly why I am walking across this country—to be the voice for those who are ignored and pushed aside. No matter the outcome of my own plight, I will continue walking.”
It was difficult for Petrovick’s parents when he first set off. They would call him five times a day to check up before he even made it far enough to cross the California state line. Petrovick just chuckled and said, “Guys, I was in Afghanistan.” A transcontinental hike was something he figured he could handle.
And handle it he has, but not without his fair share of hardships. He constantly has to gauge how much water he needs, and as the temperatures rise, sunburns and heat stroke are serious possibilities. The heavy rains this summer bring flash floods and have also slowed Petrovick’s pace. Despite the elements, Petrovick said the hardest part is knowing he has to keep walking even when strangers pull over and offer him a ride.
Making it all the way to Denver with just his backpack, Petrovick added the stroller when his parents met him on their way to Iowa. Petrovick noticed that his backpack straps were wearing thin and becoming uncomfortable, and he couldn’t walk for more than a few hours at a time.
The stroller was a welcomed change, but Petrovick did have to get used to being stopped a couple times a day by police officers checking to see if he had a baby with him. Proving he is just carrying supplies, Petrovick is then able to explain his cause and continue the trek.
Petrovick also added a white-board with the address to his blog, natewalks.com. He tries to write about his experiences at least once a week. There is also a link on the site to donate to Petrovick’s cause.
Holyoke Enterprise Aug. 7, 2014