by Terry Richards

In January of 1990, not well and longer having Private Medical Insurance I found myself in a VA Hospital in Ohio. The first week there I met a Veteran-Patient named Earl who anyone could visually see was crippled by his twisted arms and legs and the way he walked with a crutch-cane.  Earl told me how he only received about $450 per month from his Non-Service Connected Pension and that he had to live in high-crime areas in order to find low-rent.  He also related to me how even though anyone could visually see that he was crippled, young hoodlums in his neighborhood would still rob him, or beat him up for no reason.

One day during my second week at the hospital, about 15 of us were sitting in the day room watching a documentary about *Vietnam Boat-People coming into the San Francisco Harbor to seek Political Asylum.  The documentary revealed how Our Government immediately gave them free housing (apartments and single-family dwellings), food stamps, medical care, and business loans, among other things. 

Coincidentally, a few minutes after that documentary was over, one of the Nurses came into the room and shouted: “Any of you who are being discharged next week and have no place to live, the hospital bus will take you to the Homeless Mission in Columbus, and if they have room for you, you might be allowed to stay up to a week.”  I then immediately related to that Nurse about the Documentary we had all just watched and further said to her:

“You mean that the Government does not have housing for Homeless Veterans who are too sick to work?”

The Nurse responded by saying: 

“No they don’t”

and then went about her business. 

Again, it was one of the coldest winters on record in central Ohio with below zero wether, and at the time the Nurse made that announcement about the bus to the Homeless Mission I did not have a place to live, so right there and then I said to myself that once I get on my feet again:

“I am going to dedicate the rest of my life to helping Homeless Disabled Veterans,”

And I did keep that promise, as I have been an uncompensated Veterans Rights Advocate since 1990.

You have to understand that I had been out of the VA Medical Care System for about 13-years at that time because I was doing well financially and always had private medical insurance up until the time I was hospitalized at this VA Hospital. I also believed in Our Government, and that if Veterans did become homeless or disabled or otherwise ill, that Our Government provided Veterans with a place to live.  I soon found out that I was basically and tragically uninformed about Our Government.

Fortunately for me, when I was discharged 2 1/2 weeks later one of my friends found a place for me to live free until I could get on my feet again… But I could have found myself living on the streets or at that homeless shelter in Columbus if there was room, had I not been so fortunate. I never forgot that experience… 

In March of 1997, after 15-years of living in Columbus, Ohio, I relocated to St. Petersburg, Florida where I also spent 15-years… Then in March of 2012 I relocated to Los Angeles, California where I currently live.  

My interactions with “crippled Earl” and hearing his story still haunts me to this day, and that’s why I especially go all-out to assist low-income elderly Veterans like I did for 76-year old Veteran Jim Taylor in 2006 who was living in a 40-year old aluminum trailer, and who once gave me an inkling that some hoodlums tried to bother him or give him some trouble in his neighborhood.  My claims assistance to Jim along with another Veterans Advocate finally paid-off, as in May of 2009 after waiting 57-years to get awarded Service-Connected Disability Compensation for his cold-weather injuries during the Korean War, Jim’s first check was $264,000.

Furthermore, other than telling all the Vets I help that they are going to have to buy me a steak dinner when we win, and I only really say that so it gives them hope that we will win, I have never asked, nor have I ever expected or received any cash compensation for my own personal gain or finances from any Veteran or family member I have assisted. I have run my Veterans Advocacy all “on my own dime” since 1990…

*The Consensus of the Veterans in the day room including myself were Pro Legal Immigration and were not angry at the Vietnam Boat-People for getting the help they did from Our Government, but rather angry at Our Government for NOT TAKING CARE OF ITS OWN VETERANS in at least the same way they took care of the Vietnam Boat-People and other immigrants like them.

Donations to help me continue my Veterans Rights Advocacy.