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The history of Air Compassion for Veterans® began with the founding of Mercy Medical Airlift® in 1972 by Edward R. Boyer, President and CEO. Mr. Boyer has been rightly called the “Father” of charitable air transportation for devoting his life to developing a comprehensive charitable air transportation system in America in both medical and disaster situations.
Mr. Boyer has created a nationwide network of care through a variety of programs including MMA, Angel Flight, The National Patient Travel Center®, The Homeland Security Emergency Air Transportation System®, Air Compassion America® and ACV. These programs enable thousands of patients every year to access life-saving or life-improving specialized medical care that would otherwise be unavailable to them due to barriers of disaster, time and finances.
Air Compassion for Veterans began servicing Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom for Afghanistan (OEF) wounded warriors in November 2006. Initial funding was made by the California Community Foundation. A news conference was held at the office in Virginia Beach announcing ACV’s entrance into the world of charitable nonprofits serving veterans. The city’s mayor, Meyera Oberndorf, praised the organization as being “a brand new chapter in the book of good deeds.”
ACV provides free air transportation to qualifying wounded warriors and veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and their adversely affected family members, when the DoD and DVA cannot assist. Free flights are made available through airline tickets donated by American Airlines, through Angel Flight transport in small planes flown by volunteer pilots for distances of less than 1,000 miles, and through air ambulance flights for non-ambulatory patients.
In October 2007, we hosted the first annual Halos and Heroes, a fund- and friend-raiser held at the privately-owned Virginia Beach Airport and Military Aviation Musuem. The airport holds one of the nation’s largest collections of World War I and II aircraft. Guests were treated to fly-bys of vintage planes, fly-ins of Angel Flight planes with wounded warriors on board, an honors ceremony to recognize all the military heroes in attendance, and a USO show. Subsequent Halos and Heroes events featured the Charlie Daniels Band, a concert with Marty Raybon and Shenandoah, solo performances of Tuskegee airman Ezra Hill, Sr., a Broadway cabaret show, and inspirational speeches by injured veterans whom we have assisted.
One highlight of Halos and Heroes 2008 was a panel of World War II and Korean War veterans from Hampton Roads, Virginia, who shared their war stories. These were among 42 area veterans whose experiences were recorded in a book, Sacred Glances, published by Mercy Medical Airlift and edited by public affairs director Suzanne Rhodes. The book was available for sale during the event. Interviews were conducted by staff members, students, and community volunteers. Each story was accompanied by both a vintage and current photograph of the veteran. Copies of the book are available for $20 (includes S & H) by request. Write to Suzanne@MercyMedical.org to purchase this lasting treasure.
In November 2007 ACV expanded service to include flights for all veterans. These individuals had previously been served for over 30 years through our Angel Flight for Veterans program.
In 2010, when the California Community Foundation grant expired, American Airlines chose to partner with us by providing the welcome gift of airline tickets for wounded veterans.
At a briefing and luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC hosted by Mercy Medical Airlift and funded by The Boeing Company, American Airlines Captain Jim Palmersheim presented the first of several checks to ACV, which to date has totaled approximately $1.8 million for purchasing tickets.
Through its Veterans Initiative and the savings generated through its Fuel Smart program, American Airlines is committed to continued support of ACV. We are immensely grateful for this partnership, which represents a bridge between the corporate and nonprofit sectors to aid in a common cause of uplifting service men and women injured in war.
In spring 2011, Edward Boyer was presented by AMVETS with the “Oscar” for veterans, the Silver Helmet Award, for the development and implementation of the ACV program and its role in rehabilitation of wounded warriors.
Another memorable event in 2011 was the Normandy Challenge. Air Compassion for Veterans sponsored flights via American Airlines for 122 cyclists in a program called Ride 2 Recovery. The injured veterans flew from the United States to Normandy, France in July to tour World War II memorial sites. Such adaptive sports programs are highly effective in the healing process, and ACV has provided free flights in support of other similar events hosted by nonprofit groups, whether the activity is cycling, fishing, golfing, etc.
As one veteran who cycled with Ride 2 Recovery said, “Through these rides, I get to interact with other wounded warriors and share our stories. We can relate to each other as we ride…My family is very excited that I found something that can help me recover from my combat injuries.”
During a September 22, 2011 Press Conference in Washington, DC, American Airlines employees presented a symbolic check to Air Compassion for Veterans for $1,036,957 representing funding for Airline tickets provided year to date in 2011. To read the American Airlines press release, click here.