Thomas Wayne Hudson, The Walking Veteran, stands with the wagon of supplies he carries on his journey to Washington, D.C., in the Times Record parkinig lot Tuesday. Thomas Saccente/Times Record
04 Jul

Thomas Wayne Hudson, The Walking Veteran pauses in Fort Smith


Thomas Saccente/Times Record

Posted Jul 4, 2016

Thomas Wayne Hudson, The Walking Veteran, on the front page of the Fort Smith Times Record

Thomas Wayne Hudson, The Walking Veteran, on the front page of the Fort Smith Times Record

An Air Force veteran been walking from Las Vegas to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness of flaws in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

An Air Force veteran been walking from Las Vegas to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness of flaws in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Thomas Wayne Hudson, 63, is a Las Vegas resident earned the nickname of “The Walking Veteran” because of his ongoing campaign to walk his way across America. He served in the U.S. Air Force and the Texas Army National Guard from 1971-78. He held a variety of occupations after getting out of the military, including jobs in the fields of finance, law and health care administration.

Hudson is also the founder of Veterans March, an investigative watchdog group that seeks to expose instances of abuse, neglect and corruption within the VA. In a similar vein, Hudson said the purpose of his mission, titled “The Walk Across America,” is to bring awareness of problems with the VA to Congress and help usher in changes to the VA for the benefit of all veterans and their families.

The Walk Across America “is about taking our message to Congress, along with the evidence to corroborate what we’re saying, and we’re fighting for Congress, not the VA,” Hudson said. ”… We’re saying to Congress, ’Here are our recommendations. We want you to restructure the VA and run a health care system, not a political department, because this has gone on way too long. We still have status quo. Veterans are still dying. … We want Congress to take note of the 22 million veterans still living and all their family members because … we do vote. This time, we’re going to be energized and we will organize.”

Hudson cited past scandals in the VA as the primary motivation for his journey.

“You cannot, even though one VA might be good, you cannot ignore all the other scandals,” Hudson said. “The general public … thinks that the VA is one national, monolithic system. It’s not. The VA is made of regions, divisions, and each hospital is a standalone hospital. Those directors of those hospitals, or divisions, have complete control … In Phoenix, you heard two years ago, where 26 veterans died waiting for medical care because a director oversaw oversaw a fraudulent appointment scheme. That stuff is still going on.”

In addition, Hudson called leaders in Washington D.C. out of touch in their perception of the needs of veterans and their families.

“The Secretary of Veterans Affairs (Bob McDonald), number one, when he went into office, he got caught lying about his military record, had a little press conference, somewhat apologized,” Hudson said. “And the last scandalous thing he said stupidly out of his mouth was comparing veterans’ wait times at the VA with waiting times at Disney World. How insensitive!”

Hudson said making a walk with this scope and amount of publicity behind it will make his cause more likely to leave a lasting impact on Congress when he makes his case than if he were to fly to Washington D.C. instead.

Hudson began his journey in Las Vegas in May. Since then, he has been through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma before arriving in Arkansas. He plans to end his journey in Washington, D.C., in October, sweeping through Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia to get there.

Along the way, Hudson has met and will continue to meet with a variety of local officials such as mayors, governors and police chiefs to raise awareness for his cause. On June 27, he spoke with Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders about his motivation for “The Walk Across America,” his concerns about the VA and his experiences in the cities he visited up until that point.

“From having read about the problems some VAs have had, I think it is a good mission to call attention to them,” Sanders said.

Hudson said he will meet with Gov. Asa Hutchinson and others when he gets to Little Rock.

However, Hudson is not alone in his journey. As he makes his way across the country, he is supported by volunteers via his GoFundMe page, allowing him to cover expenses for motel rooms, supplies and other necessities.

“The first thing I do to cut back on expenses is try to stay in a tent,” Hudson said. “However, as you go further east, there’s more and more town, and you can’t just put up a tent anywhere.”

Volunteers across the country also have the opportunity to help Hudson more personally. During his time in Fort Smith, which began in late June, Hudson stayed with Dr. James Pollock, a physician who is a retired major in the U.S. Air Force. Pollock also took Hudson to Sparks Regional Medical Center to ensure he is still in good enough condition to continue his journey. Hudson said he has carcinoid tumors that are currently in remission.