MSN Causes is proud to honor William Shuttleworth as our Local Hero of the Month for May for his inspiring commitment to improving the lives of US?veterans. As our Local Hero, he will receive a Microsoft Surface Go to help him keep his mission on the move, and we invite you to support his chosen cause by donating to The Wounded Warrior Project.
You can track William’s journey across the country on our interactive map below, and follow him on his blog, vetsdontforgetvets.com.?
It was his seventh day on the road, after 240 miles of walking, that we caught up with William Shuttleworth, a 72-year-old from Massachusetts who is on a mission to get better services for American veterans. He had walked Route 20 from Albany, NY and made it 31 miles in one day, carrying a 25-pound backpack – quite a feat, he said, considering 22 strangers had stopped him to talk. One of them offered him a bed for the night, so for the first time since leaving home, he wasn’t pitching a tent by the roadside.
Shuttleworth plans to walk 3,600 miles in total, from the East Coast to California, to raise awareness and galvanize a grassroots movement pushing for support for veterans where they’re being let down. He wants to meet as many people as he can along the way – in coffee shops, VFW halls and anywhere someone wants to talk.
“I've met so many people, and they have the same kinds of stories,” Shuttleworth said by phone. “They’re wounded, physically and emotionally. They have families and have lost loved ones and they're not getting the services that Congress purports they are providing.”
A former educator and administrator serving special needs children, he believes that the change veterans need should come by electing more former service members to Congress. Today, only 18 percent of legislators are veterans, the lowest level since before World War II. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, roughly 11% of the adult homeless population are veterans. Only with more vested representation, he says, will it be possible to eliminate the red tape, wait times and barriers to physical and mental health care.?
His six years in the Air Force in the 1970s serving in a mental health clinic for POWs exposed him first-hand to the heroism and suffering that servicemembers face. By meeting people and inspiring them in his determination, he also hopes to chip away at the “learned helplessness” that he says afflicts many vets. “I'm an old guy, 72 years old, hobbling across the country, raising hopes and aspirations for veterans and their families that didn't think they could do a thing. We need to galvanize that inner spirit that they had at one time and say yes, we can do something about it.”
In addition to dialogue, Shuttleworth is raising money for groups serving vets who are struggling with homelessness, injuries and addiction issues. The initial goal set out on his GoFundMe page was to raise $25,000 by the time he reached California. Seven days in and one state from home, he has already met that goal.
The biggest challenge, he says, will be the physical endurance. His concerned son pointed out to him that only 43 people have ever walked coast to coast in one stretch. But despite the solo mission, Shuttleworth knows he’ll have support along the way to keep him going. One veteran contacted him through his website to say he would meet up with him in Ohio to walk the length of the state. And when he gets to California, his son plans to be there at the border to walk the final miles.
*Do you know someone who would be a great Local Hero of the Month? Email your suggestions to [email protected]?