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Man walking cross-country to give voice to service members

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A 71-year-old Air Force veteran is walking across the country to give voice to the nation’s former service members who he says need more support on Capitol Hill.

William Shuttleworth arrived in Crawfordsville Friday in the latest stop on his seven month, 3,600-mile journey to California from his home in Massachusetts. Since the trip began on May 15, he’s spoken to veterans hospitals, American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and military families.

Electing more veterans to political office, he said, would bring more attention to the health care, housing and income needs for active and former soldiers.

“It’s long overdue, don’t you think?” Shuttleworth said by phone en route to Crawfordsville.

When he joined the Air Force as a mental health clinician in the 1970s, he said veterans held more than three-quarters of the seats in Congress. Today, less than 20% of lawmakers have military backgrounds.

Shuttleworth said the government should guarantee medical and mental health treatment for all veterans within 30 days, and provide free medical care for any veteran who was ever drafted and honorably discharged, eliminating service length requirements. 

The U.S. could end veteran homeless by 2030, he said, through opening shelters, building homes and creating employment and job training opportunities for returning service members.

The starting pay for enlistees should be increased to a “livable wage,” Shuttleworth added, which could vary depending on the situation.

“But you ought not qualify for food stamps to serve America’s armed forces,” he said.

Carrying his tent on his back, Shuttleworth logs 14-hour days along rural highways, meeting a woman with 18 children, seven of them who wear the nation’s uniform.

“She prays every night,” Shuttleworth said.

He spoke to a veteran dying of bone cancer he said was caused by Agent Orange exposure, and a man who had 15 relatives serve in World War II.

Donations he receives benefit The Disabled American Veterans Association Charitable Trust. For more information about the trip, visit www.vetsdontforgetvets.com.

Upon returning home, Shuttleworth said he plans to lobby members of Congress on veteran’s issues. Asked if he plans to make his own bid for political office, the retired educator and psychologist said his age would be a barrier.

“I think at 71, I probably won’t do that,” he said. “Have I thought about running for United States Senate? Yes, I have, and I’ve been encouraged to do that.”

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