Raise Your Voice: Soldier fights to get well

DECATUR, Ga. -- A successful tour of duty was followed by an unexpected illness. It's not the plan solider Tab Hazelwood had in mind.

When he raised his voice to 11Alive News, he wanted more than help navigating the VA medical system. He hoped his voice would speak for the thousands of American veterans struggling just like him.

Hazelwood remembers every mission during his career.

"I served from '92 to '95. I was an artillery man. We all fell under the 18th Airborne Corps, the Army's first ones in if something happened," he said.

They were bound by duty, but brothers by choice.

"The camaraderie, that's pretty much the main thing, the camaraderie. It's hard when you get back in to the civilian world to recapture that," Hazelwood explained.

Hazelwood moved home to Georgia and expected a smooth transition. He went to school. He got a factory job, but then the job moved overseas. The factory closed. He got sick.

"VA care is all I've got to rely on," he said.

The wait -- a long wait to a see doctor -- is all too normal for veterans. It is a wait that's often inescapable.

While Hazelwood waited two months for a specialist appointment, his medical condition became a crisis.

"This particular case could be life-threatening. We talk a lot about don't leave a solider behind. Is this not just as bad as leaving a solider behind?" he asked.

He had no comrade in this fight and nowhere to turn.

"I wanted to raise my voice and let people know I'm still caught in that catch 22," he said.

We gave his catch-22 the 11Alive treatment. The day before Hazelwood's long-awaited appointment, we took the solider to United Military Care.

"Our veterans have paid dearly, and they've sacrificed so much for our county. The last thing we need to do it tell them their healthcare doesn't matter, and that's the message we're giving," said United Military Care Director Kimberly Scofi.

Hazelwood represents so many Georgia veterans waiting an average of more than 50 days to see a doctor at the Decatur VA hospital. Scofi aims to change that.

"What we'll do with Tab is work to find out what issues he's going on currently. (We'll) find out how we can help with budgeting, maybe job placement, whatever he needs to get back on his feet and be strong again," she said.

Scofi briefed the solider for his doctor's appointment. She explained how to organize records and medical bills and prescriptions. She focused on how to get the treatment faster as he battles for his life under VA care.

"We can be very committed. One thing America doesn't understand unfortunately is when we train our soldiers and Marines, they have battle buddies. They go through training and basic service with a battle buddy. (That buddy) is their constant, their companion, their confidant and their security," she said.

We asked if United Military Care can do that for Hazelwood.

"Absolutely," Scofi said.

We presented Hazelwood with his 11Alive "Raise Your Voice" team shirt, along with our promise to be his "battle buddy" as well, helping him navigate healthcare as he battles to get well.

"I feel great. After y'all helping me out and talking to the specialist I feel wonderful. I raised my voice thanks to y'all. I really appreciate it," he said.


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