Bentivolio trekking nearly 600 miles for veteran issues

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Kerry Bentivolio may no longer be a member of Congress, but he’s using his legs and his name value to march to Washington, D.C., on behalf of America’s veterans.

The ex-congressman, 64, has embarked on an almost 600-mile trek from his Milford home to Washington, D.C., “to raise awareness of the abominable conditions that our veterans and their families are living under after giving their lives to protect and serve this country.”

Lobbying rules prevent Bentivolio from trying to persuade his former colleagues directly, so he’s trying to get the American people to speak on his behalf. That’s why, Bentivolio told The News, he’ll spend the next month “talking to anyone who will listen” about veterans issues on his approach to Washington.

His hope is that those people call their representatives in Congress to talk about veterans issues, though Bentivolio lamented that “many people don’t even know who their congressman is.”

Bentivolio, an Army veteran whose 27-year career included action in both Vietnam and Iraq and service in the Michigan National Guard, is chronicling his journey on his Facebook page, Congressman Kerry Bentivolio. Bentivolio is also in the process of creating a nonprofit organization, called “Justice For Our Veterans,” which will help veterans with legal and medical expenses they cannot manage.

Wrote Bentivolio on Friday when he started the journey: “300,000 veterans died waiting for promised VA healthcare (a government run healthcare system) and twice as many still waiting! 120 veterans commit suicide each week. 100,000 plus go homeless. Attention Democrats, Republicans and bureaucrats — I'm calling you out for the hypocrites you are!”

Bentivolio has walked and biked on his journey. As of Monday morning when he spoke to The News, he’d traveled about 60 miles, half-walking and half-biking, and was in Ida, just north of Toledo.

“When my butt gets sore, I walk. When my feet get sore, I bike,” Bentivolio said.

A trailer is traveling ahead of Bentivolio so he has somewhere to sleep at night, said Lynn Sturla, who handles media relations for the ex-congressman. In Ohio, Sturla said, Bentivolio plans to meet with that state’s chapter of Rolling Thunder, a nonprofit that focuses on issues involving American prisoners-of-war and fighters who went missing-in-action. Bentivolio said he wants to hit “every (Veterans of Foreign Wars) and American Legion hall I can” en route to Washington.

Every morning, the trailer will return Bentivolio to where the previous day’s journey ended, and he’ll start again.

The walk represents Bentivolio’s first foray back into public life after losing the primary election for his seat in Congress to Dave Trott of Birmingham.

“He was beaten up pretty well” during the 2014 election, Sturla said, and “he’s been gathering himself” ever since. Bentivolio filed for bankruptcy soon after leaving office, The News reported.

“This is what happens when a regular guy gets an opportunity to come to Congress,” he said at the time.

Now out of office, Bentivolio is living on his 70 percent disability benefits from the Veterans Administration, he said.

The Veterans Administration has been hammered by reports of mismanagement of funds, ineffective medical aid to the veterans in its care, and difficulties maintaining records. According to a VA Inspector General report, more than 300,000 veterans died while waiting for care.

Some 100,000 veterans are homeless. Bentivolio says many veterans who deal with the VA are given the “verbal moonwalk” by an agency that’s “incompetent, irresponsible, and ineffective.” Veterans issues were the focus of Bentivolio’s brief tenure in Congress.

Bentivolio is also using the platform to rant against the crop of 2016 presidential candidates and President Barack Obama.

“Not one of the candidates now running on either side served a day in uniform nor will they ask any of us in the know how to improve medical services for our veterans,” Bentivolio wrote on his Facebook page. “Yet, the Commander in Chief hands out food stamps, a monthly check, free housing and a medical card to the Syrian transplants-most of them never vetted and some sure to be our former enemies that prepared or assisted in placement of the IED's and VBIEDS on our combat convoy missions in Iraq.”

Paperwork is being done to establish Justice For Our Veterans as a nonprofit, Sturla said. Donations that come in via will be used to defray the cost of the trip: the trailer, the food, possibly a pair of new shoes.

Any money left will go to Justice For Our Veterans, Bentivolio said.

What will happen when the journey ends, when the ex-congressman reaches Washington? Speaking to ex-colleagues is a no-no, and thus far no public rallies are in the plans.

“I’m going to come home,” Bentivolio said.