Stories of Kindness from Around the World

The Veteran Who Just Wanted To Be Seen

--by marc, posted Mar 15, 2012

This happened about four or five years ago. I had been involved in "Non Violent Communication" for a couple of years. I was struggling as I still do with finding a natural and seamless way of connecting with people through compassion and empathy in everyday encounters; trying not to assume I know what someone needs but being willing to ask. 

Walking through the lobby of an office building in San Francisco I could hear a man screaming and shouting obscenities. He was so loud his voice penetrated the sounds of mid-day traffic and the double glass doors leading to the street.  
Heading through those doors I saw a double amputee hunched over on one of those little rolling platforms auto mechanics sometimes use to scoot under cars. He was gesturing erratically at pedestrians as they approached and yelling profanities as they veered as far away from him as they could get while still staying on the sidewalk.
“I fought in Nam!" he yelled. "I lost my legs In Nam! Why can’t you help me?”
Trying to avoid him I hugged the building and tried to melt into the crowd, hoping he wouldn’t notice me. I don’t know if his volume actually rose or it was just my imagination but his words surrounded me. With every step they seemed louder.
"I lost my legs In Nam! Why can’t you help me?” he roared (with added expletives!)
Two more steps and I’d be at the corner and out of range. Then something shifted in me and, to my surprise. instead of making my escape I stopped, turned and walked back towards him. Crouching down I put a few bucks in his cup and asked him if he just wanted someone to stop and listen to him.
"Don’t you think I at least deserve that?" he shouted. "I went to Nam!" There was a pause as he caught his breath. "I was a kid. I came home with no legs! And they won’t even look me in the eye!" He paused again as he struggled to get the words out. "... I did it for them ..."
Looking into his gnarled, dirt-stained, unshaven face I guessed he was just a few years younger than me. I imagined our shared experiences as black youngsters growing up in the fifties and sixties. Had he, like me, shivered with fear when Emmet Till was killed in Mississippi? Was he also anxious when Ruby Bridges was escorted into that schoolhouse in New Orleans. Had he cried when John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy were assassinated?  
I was also aware of our differences highlighted by his ragged clothes and his paper cup for spare change. 
I asked if he just wanted to be seen and heard after all he had come through. His voice dropped and he nodded and whispered, “Yes ... yes." 
With a calm steady gaze he looked me in the eyes as tears spilled over his wizened cheeks. He clasped my hands in his.  
Spare change would help but simply being seen and heard can be what some of us long for most of all.


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Readers Comments

Fima wrote: My suggestion on how to help elaminite veteran homelessness: pay veterans their benefits promptly instead of putting them on a hampster wheel of denials. Veterans for common sense says it takes an average of 4. 4 years for a veteran to appeal his claim at the bva. Many vets can not wait 4 years for their benefits and become homeless while on the long waiting list. The varo's keep making the same mistakes, over and over again, denying veterans and never learning anything from the court cases that reverse the denials. The veterans benefit manual published by lexis nexus demonstrates that there are 22 common errors made by the ro's requiring veterans to appeal or forfeit their benefits. These common mistakes, repeated by the varo's over and over again, result in veteran homelessness en masse.
Ainun wrote: The va contends that service medical records (smr's ) are not renevalt to claims becuase they are for periods that are not covered by the law becuase they cover periods preceding the eligibility period. This newest twist is covered in vet. App. No. 08-4333, frederick l. Payne, appealant, v. Eric k. Shinseki, secretary of veterans affairs, appellee. The va states that evidence developed after separation is the legal evidence of record. If the va decides not to address a issue covered by the service medical records then there will be no medical evidence of record after separation becuase the va failed in its duty to provide a complete medical examination of all identified and unidentified medical conditions during the compensation and pension process. This is exactly what the dva is argueing in this particular case, becuase they failed to address issues during the initial examination and then failed to adjudicate the claim because of a failure to issue a supplemental statement of case (ssoc) due to irregulartiy in mailing. The dva mailed the ssoc to the wrong address, and now take the position that the claims of the veteran are unwarrented becuase of a lack of evidence. I would certainly like the opportunity to discuss this again.
luv4all wrote: I realised this recently, that when people are not heard or given acceptance they develop such personlity issues like shouting, getting angry on small things, erratic or eccentric etc. People never understand their true need of some understanding, listening and a little love and care.

I am so glad that and deeply touched that you allowed him to share himself and break free from holding this grudge of being treated as insignificant, outcast when he lost his normal life for others.

Thank you so mcuh. I would follow this soon.
Kathleen wrote: I literally burst into tears. Thank you for posting your story. It is a shame that some of our soldiers who gave/give of themselves are not treated with the respect and dignity they so rightly deserve.
pat wrote: I have a dear friend who's a vietnam veteran, walked "point" for six months after half his platoon was blown up in front of him and his best friend died in his arms. He came home physically unscathed but with ptsd that's bad enough that he receives disability because of it. He had the same experience when he came home. He eventually took up running, then yoga, and is an active peace activist. Buthis feelings re the same as the screaming amputee. Just tomebody caring and willing to listen is a huge, huge gift. If one chose to, one could take ift further and try to help the homeless veteran link up with veterans' services--cities have vet centers, and veterans qualify for veterans administration health care (including psychological). There are many stories of frutrations with the va, but there are success stories as well. Many war veterans couldn't wait to get home, but once back in "the world," they find it so foreign that they re-enlist. Part of it is missing the adrenaline; a big part is missing their "brothers" (and sisters) and a community in which the people around you "have your back" and would literally give their lives for you; part is that we safe civilians can't fathom what these vets have endured. Any way we can even temporarily "have their back"--simply pausing to listen--is a gift we can offer ~
Wilhelm wrote: I liked that story very much. It touched my heart.
SmileSharer wrote: That is a great lesson and i know it will help me look at others differently sometimes. Thank you for sharing. Smiles forever, smilesharer
CINDY wrote: What an awesome story. May god bless both of you abundantly.
Rene Simonini wrote: Thank you, thank you for your service to the people of this country! It is because of brave, selfless individuals like you we all enjoy our many freedoms! Much love to you and your family!
Joy wrote: What a profound act of kindness and compassion. Many blessings to you. Thank you so much for sharing. What you shared is what the world needs more of: love, kindness and compassion.

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