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US Airways: Unsung Corporate Hero?

usairwaysWhen it comes to facilitating transportation for wounded military personnel and their families, US Airways tops the generosity list, providing about $1 million in complimentary plane tickets/year. Steve Craven, a volunteer pilot with Mercy Medical Airlift, sat next to me en route to a recent Red Cross volunteer recognition ceremony at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He told me about the great lengths that some airlines will go to to help military families in need. For example, United Airlines and Delta Airlines have both recently offered assistance with the transportation of military personnel to cancer centers of excellence. Sadly, American Airlines, Continental Airlines, and Southwest Airlines have repeatedly turned down requests for assistance.

According to Mr. Craven, his organization coordinates about 25,000 Angel Flights, 10,000 cancer-related flights, and 6,000 Iraq war veteran flights (via Air Compassion for Veterans) per year, with over 7,000 volunteer angel pilots nationwide. Mercy Medical Airlift also runs a National Patient Travel Center which acts as a clearing house/military travel agency for charitable ticket programs, air ambulance discounts, and special lift programs – including transportation to the NIH for clinical trials.

I asked Mr. Craven what sort of patients need the air ambulance service. He responded that often times elderly veterans or military personnel with terminal illnesses wish to die at home (rather than in a specialty hospital or facility) but are too sick to travel in a regular airplane. The air ambulance service allows them to fulfill their last wish and die with dignity.

Sometimes, military families have a very sick child and have exhausted their resources but need specialty treatment at an academic center. Mercy Medical Airlift makes sure they get where they need to go. Once there, the families often stay at Ronald McDonald House or Fisher House. We’re so grateful to our partner airlines who make it possible for military families to stay together in times of medical hardship.

I offer my thanks to US Airways for their generosity to military personnel and their families – as a rehab physician, I know how much it means to them to have their family with them in sickness and in health.

Secretary Robert Gates Addresses The Red Cross At Walter Reed

Secretary Robert Gates Addresses The Red Cross At Walter Reed

A Hospital Closes Because Staff Don’t Want To Walk Too Much?

I volunteer at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) a half-day per week. I’m inspired by the soldiers in the occupational and physical therapy center, and am continually amazed by their abilities. The other day I watched a soldier with an artificial leg climb a rock wall better than I ever could, and marveled at a man who had both legs amputated above the knee – he was ambulating almost without a limp, and with the help of a straight cane alone.

As I watched these wounded warriors learning how to maximize their functional abilities – I overheard a staff member explain the reason why the Walter Reed hospital building is closing in 2011.

Apparently WRAMC is built on land owned by the District of Columbia. In an effort to subsidize the over-budget subway system, the city purposefully disallowed sufficient parking spaces to be built on the WRAMC site. The idea was to force staff to take the subway to WRAMC. The closest subway is a 20 minute walk from the hospital.

In addition to the limited parking, DC imposes a height restriction on all buildings in the district – they cannot be taller than the Washington monument.  Therefore as Walter Reed grew and expanded, they could not add any floors to the hospital, but had to construct additional buildings on campus.

And so, in about three years time, Walter Reed will shut down, moving their remaining staff to the Navy hospital in Bethesda, Maryland where there is plenty of parking and no building height restrictions.

I’m not sure what the total cost of moving the army hospital to the navy center will be, but I’m guessing in the hundreds of millions. How much did the staff complaints about not wanting to walk to work play into all of this? I don’t know, but I’ve seen them drive in as early as 5:30 am to get one of the few parking spots. This attitude is consistent with Americans’ general unwillingness to adopt an active lifestyle, and it’s costing us all so much more than we realize.

It’s possible that laziness dealt the final blow to Walter Reed: a facility created to get people active again after war injuries.

How Ironic.

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