Air Force says Sequester budget cuts prohibit military transport
By Roger McCredie –[Asheville, NC] A private aircraft climbed into a cloudless Good Friday sky, bound for the nation’s capital. Its mission: to fetch a local veteran back to spend his final days near his family.
The plane, which was given the call sign HRF (for “Hero Flight”) 65MS, is owned and flown by Asheville businessman Mike Summey. Also on board were reserve pilot Greg Byrd, and Dr. Kenneth Kubitschek of Carolina Internal Medicine who was volunteering his own time to act as accompanying physician.
The patient is retired Master Sergeant Michael Dishon, a 20-year Air Force veteran who was recently medevaced from Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the army’s largest hospital outside the U.S. proper, to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington. Dishon suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and has now been diagnosed with terminal Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, an aggressive form of cancer that invades the lymph system. On arrival, Dishon will be transferred to a local hospice facility.
Summey said he learned of Dishon’s case when he was contacted by the Veterans Airlift Command, a small nonprofit that enlists the aid of private pilots to transport ill and wounded veterans in cases where military transport is not available or feasible and ground travel is not advisable.
Jen Salvati, VAC Operations Manager, said that Dishon’s illness had been designated as 100 percent service-connected since he contracted it while still on active duty, and that he thus would ordinarily have qualified for military air transport; however, she said, she had been informed that funding for such mercy flights has been curtailed by Sequester budget cuts and that the armed forces have been appealing to private sources for help. “We got a call from Sgt. Dishon’s social worker,” she said.
“It’s a duty and an honor to be doing this,” Summey said. “For me it’s an uplifting experience. But I can’t help noticing the irony that the President of the United States can spend a million dollars’ worth of taxpayer money to have Air Force One fly him to a golf game with Tiger Woods but the Air Force can’t afford to fly a terminally ill veteran with a hundred-per-cent service related disability to his hospice.”
Salvati said the Veterans Airlift Command headquartered in Minneapolis, was started by her father, Walt Fricke, a Vietnam War helicopter pilot. The organization, administered only by Fricke, Salvate and mission coordinator Maria Miles, now comprises some 2,200 private pilots across the U.S., such as Summey, who usually undertake their missions at their own personal expense.
“We usually deal with combat wounded, but this [Dishon’s case] was a worthy exception,” Salvati said. She added that the fact that military transport was not available might in a way have been just as well.
“He would probably have had to wait for available space,” she said. “That could have meant being on call for days, and even then you don’t know whether he’d be getting proper attention. And commercial flights are just as bad. At least this way he’ll have a doctor and oxygen with him and we know he’ll be made comfortable.”
Dishon’s daughter Samantha was due to accompany her father back to Asheville, where they would be met by another daughter. The flight manifest listed two passengers, one weighing 150 pounds, the other 105 pounds.
The 105-pound passenger was Dishon.
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Original Email Requesting Summey’s Assistance
Sent: 3/26/2013 10:25:58 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time Subj: VAC Mission from Washington, DC to Asheville, NC 3/29
We have a slightly out of the box mission opportunity this week:
Retired 68 year old USAF MSG Michael Dishon was medivaced from Landstuhl to Walter Reed for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Michael has Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and is going to be entering hospice care in Asheville, NC. He is 100% service connected disabled (cancer). Due to the sequester, the Air Force cannot fly him there (they normally would have been able to accomplish this on an exception basis).
We would like to help this veteran get to his hospice care comfortably (doctors say driving is not ideal). Please let me know if you are able to help. He will be traveling with his daughter and oxygen.
Washington, DC to Asheville, NC 3/29
2 pax-weights 103 and 152
Thanks for considering this mission.
Jen Salvati Operations
Manager Veterans Airlift Command