American soldiers who crossed the ocean and traveled to Ukraine to fight Russian forces, and who were injured, now find it nearly impossible to return to the United States.
The Hernandez family, who are from El Paso, Texas, are sounding the alarm about it, as their son, Alex, who left in March, is now clinging to life after being seriously injured during the war.
His parents say they have not been able to bring him back home.
“I hope nothing bad happens, but if it does, you know… take care of all my brothers and be strong for them,” Alex Ortiz said in a voice message to his mother.
The message was sent before he was seriously injured by shrapnel while fighting Russian forces in Ukraine.
“I would beg you to come back. Please do not go. Alex, I beg you. Please don’t do this,’” Alex’s mother, Sara, told NewsNation cable television.
However, despite his parents’ wishes, the Navy veteran decided to sign a contract in March to fight with the Ukrainian Army.
“My initial response was, ‘I understand why you want to go and I admire you for it. I don’t recommend you go,’” said Alex’s stepfather, Cruz Hernández.
When the voicemails stopped, Alex’s mom and stepdad flew to kyiv to find him in a Ukrainian hospital fighting for his life.
“To be honest with you, I couldn’t recognize him. My son usually weighs about 160 pounds (72.5 kilograms)… my son was probably 70-80 pounds (32-36 kilos), he is missing an eye and his head was bandaged due to trauma to the brain.” Sarah said.
Since then, the Ukrainian military has transported Ortiz out of the country. He is now in a hospital in Germany where nurses Facetimed his loved ones in El Paso.
But Facetime is not enough. The family wants their soldier home. The only problem is that a plane ride home from the specially equipped Intensive Care Unit (ICU) hospital could cost $300,000 or more, money the family doesn’t have.
“The Veterans Administration (VA) has said they couldn’t help us; different organizations have said that they could not help us because he left of his own free will; even the United States Government has said: ‘You are alone,’” Cruz said.
This was confirmed by veteran military officials.
“Tragically, any of these injuries that result from serving alongside Ukraine at this time are not considered service-connected,” Ryan Gallucci, director of national service for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), said on NewsNation’s “Rush Hour.” on Tuesday.
Gallucci also says the dilemma with Ortiz comes down to the fact that he was not deployed, which means the United States does not have a responsibility to bring him home.
“Look, illnesses and injuries are not explicitly covered right now through the Department of Veterans Affairs or anything like that. So if you are injured in the line of duty, it really depends on what resources you have at your disposal or what resources are available locally through the Ukrainian military, or what contract you have signed,” he continued.
The family has started a GoFundMe to try to raise the money needed to bring their son back to the United States safely. As of Tuesday afternoon, they had raised just over $50,000 of a $350,000 goal.
The VFW agrees that the charitable route is your most likely option for returning home.