Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Homeless Viet Nam Vet

James J. Alonzo (C)

“My name is Hector, I got Agent Orange. “ said the homeless Viet Nam veteran to the intake clerk.

There are intake clerks at the Service Centers at the local VA Facilities. One of the jobs of these clerks do is to handle any homeless Veterans claims. The weather was getting colder, so all day, the homeless vets had crowded into the reception room and waited impatiently for their turn.

The Sheet in front of the clerk indicated that the Veteran sitting before him was the 25th veteran he had to interview that day. Crowded as it was, the room was noisy and smelled of urine, and other offensive smells.

“I’m sorry Hector” the clerk answered, I didn’t get that. Could you lean closer so I can hear you, and say that again?”

Hector did just that much to the sensitivity of the clerk’s nostrils.

The clerk looked down at the intake form in front of him. They had gotten through about half the intake questions. The clerk had established that Hector was a combat Viet Nam veteran, 1967-1968, a survivor of the bloody TET offensive. The clerk had also established that Hector indeed was registered for Veterans Administration Services, because Hector had shown the clerk his ID card,

“That’s me.” Hector proudly showed his VA photo Identification card, pointing at his photo.

“Caucasian”, asked the clerk as he continued with the questions,

“Yes” replied Hector, “but also I’m part Cherokee too.”

Then the next question, which the clerk had seen before and knew was embarrassing to some of the other homeless Vets.

“Are you homeless now Hector.”

“Yes.” Hector said, dropping his eyes.

The clerk continued the questioning, and was now in the medical section of the questionnaire.

“Flu Shot?”

“No Thanks…well maybe…do you have that pig shot?”

“Do you mean swine flu shot? No, sorry, we don’t.”

“That’s ok, I don’t need it.”

“Do you want a hearing test?”


“Do you want a blood test for hepatitis, and HIV-AIDS?”


“Do you want to speak to someone in our mental health clinic?”

“No.” Hector’s eyes nervously drop down to the desk again.


“Yeah, I really need my feet looked at. They are swollen, and the skin is cracked, and my toe nails are real long and yellow.”

“We’ll get you to the podiatry clinic right away.”

“Good, can I get that skin lotion, my feet are cracked so bad, that they bleed?”

“Yeah, talk to them when you get there. What about Substance Abuse?”

“No, I don’t drink or do drugs!”

“Okay,” The clerk said, “TB Test?”

“You got that?” he asked.

“Yes, we have that.”

“I’ll take that,” Hector said, “I’ve been coughing a lot lately. Sometimes I spit up blood”

The clerk started showing discomfort over the odor Hector was emitting, and pushed back, asking questions from a little farther distance.

“Do you want help with employment Hector? “


“Do you get Social Security Disability, or public assistance?”

“No, I’m all set” Hector answered, “I Got Agent Orange. A Hundred Percent.”

“What was that?” The clerk leaned in ignoring the smell. “I didn’t get that?”

“Agent Orange.” answered Hector, “…I get a check every month for Agent Orange. A hundred percent. They send it to my post office box, since I don’t have a home.”

“Now the clerk understood. That is how homeless Hector was “makin’ it on the mean streets. A monthly disability checks from the VA, because of his diagnosis of Dioxin

Poisoning from Viet Nam Service Related Proximity to the herbicide, “Agent Orange”.

The clerk wondered how long it took Hector to get such a disability rating. What kind of struggle did it take Hector so he could subsist on the streets, all by the benefit of his monthly Agent Orange check?

The bottom line for Hector, he is dying.

He told the clerk,

“I need a new kidney. Actually, I need a lot of body parts. But I am not going to get them in time. I got diabetes too. I know I will die before they find the parts I need.”

Hector won’t be the first, or the last, but when Hector does die, maybe it should be noted he died from “friendly fire.”

Hector, as others who served in Nam, was wounded a long time ago, fighting in the Viet Nam, breathing hard, and sucking in the sweet smell of US Administered dioxin defoliant, as it dripped off the jungle canopy. Drinking it from the water, where the dioxin ran off, when it rained.

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