By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — The long, hot walk of 60 miles from Dearborn to Holly was one Debra Debolt was happy to do alongside her son, sister and family friends.
Debolt, 60, aimed to make some noise and attract attention to the lack of proper and timely medical treatment for veterans.
“The protest is in the walk, and I hope our journey brings needed attention the cause,” she said. “I know I can do more and bring noise to veteran health rights.”
Her husband, Alan Debolt, a former U.S. Army medic in Vietnam from 1969 to 1971 died in February 2014.
He suffered from kidney cancer at the time of his death and did not receive treatment in time for a 7-centimeter tumor wrapped around his kidney.
“After we went to the John Dingell VA Medical Center for the cancer, they told us the next followup appointment they had open was two months away,” Debra Debolt said. “They only had 15 beds and a two-month waiting list for hospice care so we had aid from Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit until he passed.”
The cancer is believed to come from an exposure to Agent Orange during Alan Debolt’s time serving in the army. He died on the same day his appointment with a doctor from the VA hospital was scheduled and seven weeks after being diagnosed.
“This issue is important because who has insurance should be able to get a test done and get their results in a timely manner,” Debra Debolt said. “A followup should be available sooner for a veteran and not just sent home to wait.”
Debra Debolt walked from American Legion Fort Dearborn Post No. 364, 3001 Telegraph Road, to Great Lakes National Veterans Cemetery in Holly where her husband is buried with 30,000 other veterans.
During the 60-mile walk on Telegraph Road, Dixie Highway and Belford Road, family friends Bob and Pat Robbins drove a logistics vehicle filled with food, water and drinks for the walkers.
“The weather and heat were a challenge but we kept encouraging each other,” Debra Debolt said. “We had blisters, sun burns, swollen ankles and knees. Our bodies were sore all over.”
The entire route took three days from Father’s Day June 19 and ended on the Debolts’ 41st wedding anniversary June 21.
Along with Debra Debolt; her sister Janice Leach, 53; son Alan Debolt Jr., 37; and Michigan State University film studies student Thomas Streed, 18, other supports joined in on the route.
Streed offered to film the walk after he heard about the cause through a friend.
“A man who saw the posts on Instagram joined in Redford to walk a few miles,” Debra Debolt said. “Dearborn police gave us an escort through the city and drivers beeped and yelled supportive messages as we walked.”
State Rep. George Darany (D-Dearborn) has done business with the Debolts since Debra Debolt had a flower shop in Dearborn for over 20 years.
“She called me and asked how I could help when her husband first passed,” Darany said. “My office has been working to get her widow relief and make sure organizations are aware of the lack of proper veteran care.”
Darany and Debra Debolt also graduated from Edsel Ford High School together as friends and remained in contact since on veterans’ health care.
“We should all care for veterans as state representatives,” he said. “It was my honor and duty to help bring awareness for the issue.”
Darany walked the first few miles from Dearborn with the family so show his support for the family and veterans.
“Veterans gave their lives for us so the least we can do as a society is try to get theme timely and full coverage health care,” he said.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])