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VA2K takes steps in the right direction for health and ending Veteran homelessness

U.S. Marine Corps Veteran walks down the bike path with other employees
U.S Marine Corps Veteran Michael Rech participates in the Milwaukee VA2K held May 17. Zablocki VA employees and Veterans will participate in this dual-purpose event with goals of moving the body in support of whole health and well-being, while raising awareness for VA homeless Veterans services.

A “pneumonia front” moved in overnight and brought a significant chill to the air, but that didn’t stop people from lacing up their shoes on May 17 for the Milwaukee VA2K Walk and Roll event.

The community showed up for the event, a short 2-kilometer (1.24 miles) jaunt around Lake Wheeler on the Milwaukee VA campus.

The annual event encourages people to live active lifestyles and allows participants to support Veterans at risk or experiencing homelessness through voluntary donations.

“This is a fantastic event that really brings the community, our employees and our Veterans together,” said James McLain, executive director of Milwaukee VA Medical Center.

“A lot of hard work by our staff and volunteers pays off when everybody shows up enthusiastic and engaged,” he said. “It’s a beautiful day for it.”

This is the fifth year that Courtney Zeller, a recreation therapist at Zablocki VA, led the planning committee for the VA2K. 

“It’s wonderful to see how all the effort culminates for this event,” said Zeller. “The band is here, the food truck, the community outreach services. … Employees and Veterans are along the route cheering them (participants) on.

“It makes me so happy that we’re able to bring it all together, for a good cause,” she said.

A donation drive to benefit Veteran homeless services is held in conjunction with the walk. Voluntary Services staff and volunteers “stuff the bus” with a variety of household products that are dropped off during the event.

In 2022, Milwaukee VA housed 309 Veterans experiencing homelessness. In honor of that success, a donation goal was set for the VA2K to collect 309 cleaning supplies for the newly housed Veterans.

From the look of the stuffed bus, and considering other locations also collected donations, that goal was surely exceeded.

“All the donations go directly to help Veterans,” said Zeller. “The VA2K brings us all together to support the ultimate mission of ending Veteran homelessness.”

The event is also intended to inspire Veterans and VA employees to live healthier lifestyles that can reduce preventable injuries and illnesses.

U.S. Marine Corps Veteran Michael Rech has been a member of the Walk a Mile or More (WAMM) Veteran group for almost a decade. He said he tapped into his military bearing by doing what he was told to do and that helped him to make significant health improvements.

“When I first started, WAMM was part of the MOVE! program at the VA,” said Rech. “When they started me on a treadmill, I was so out of shape that I could only walk 1 mile.

“They told me what I was going to do, and I did it ... one day a week, and by the end of 12 weeks I was able to do 4 miles in one hour,” he said.

Rech, a Vietnam War Veteran, credits God and WAMM for keeping him encouraged. He also emphasized the camaraderie he feels with Veterans in the group.

“I like to get together with the other Veterans, and we talk about different things,” said Rech.

“We don’t talk about the war,” he said. “We talk about what’s happening in our lives; we look after each other.”

 VA’s Whole Health approach to health care encourages people to discover new ways to support their health and well-being. Veterans can work with their health team to develop a personalized health plan.

This was the 13th annual VA2K Walk and Roll. VA medical centers across the nation participate in this dual-purpose event.

This year Zeller said Zablocki VA had a record attendance of 362 participants. While Milwaukee VA and Green Bay VA hosted larger scale events, community-based outpatient clinics in Appleton, Cleveland and Union Grove also held VA2K events.

“We start planning about a year out for the VA2K,” said Zeller. “We’re already thinking about 2024.”

See more photos on our Flickr page.

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