A Homeless Vet Brought it “Home” for Me (and Why I Joined the Ranks of RIP Medical Debt)

by Bette King

While I was in in downtown LA a few days ago, I saw a man standing with a sign saying, “Can You Help a Veteran?

I was interested to hear more about his request and, although I was in a seedy part of town, he didn’t appear threatening. I asked him what his needs were and he said, “Could you help me with a few bucks for lunch?” I answered that I would like to buy him a nice meal if he would be willing to let me interview him about his situation.

He was willing, and we walked several blocks to a nicer area than the homeless skid row.

I could tell he had manners reminiscent of a soldier as he held the door for me and others. I told him to order whatever he wanted. He was very modest in his ordering. He had a nice smile and had several teeth missing and wrinkled clothes.

The best way to get started was to ask him to tell me his story. I then came to realize that he was missing part of his leg and had an artificial limb. He described how this condition caused him to lose everything, including his family, as they were so deep in debt from all the medical bills.

He described that he felt the only fair thing to do at a very low point was to give up his family so they could start their lives over. “I made a sacrifice for our country,” he said, “but the worse one letting go of my loved ones/ two kids and a wife.”

Since then, for the past four years, he has been living on the streets.

An amazing sacrifice – his family

I asked why he didn’t fight for his family and he started to cry. “They have hope without me. I have no leg, no job, no credit.” I asked about his self-esteem and he just stared in open space.

He ate politely and thanked me, saying that he would not forget my kindness. Without thinking, I asked if I could have his phone number so that we would stay in touch. Of course, he had no phone.

At that point and after we parted, I realized I was in the right place to get involved with the charity I had heard so much about through a friend – RIP Medical Debt. This organization’s mission is to see that medical debt is taken off the backs of both veterans and active duty members of our Armed Services…a goal set to the tune of $50M by the end of 2018.

However it can be done, by way of personal donations or serving RIP in some fashion as a community consultant, this could be my way to give this veteran – or others in his same circumstances – something they cannot give themselves.

Meeting this vet is an experience I will never forget. I just wish I could have taken him home but this is a commitment that one does not do alone.

For more information on the issues surrounding medical debt, please contact RIP Medical Debt.