Veterans Left Behind
by Everett Cox
Everett Cox is a Vietnam veteran, writer, and artist who is committed to his part-time work of helping veterans in crisis in Orange County, New York. He writes frankly about the exhaustion that service providers often feel at the magnitude of veterans needing complex, painstaking help, and who are often challenging to reach.
I visit vets. Two, sometimes three days a week, I visit vets. A vet in jail or under a bridge, in a McDonalds, in their homes, or at a shelter. I visit addicted vets, old vets, delusional vets, suicidal vets. We share stories, sometimes a cup of coffee or cheap burger, sometimes a ride together in my car - to the supermarket or VA clinic or soup kitchen, usually a smoke shop. Between visits, I drive all over the beautiful countryside, the farmlands, rolling hills, forests, high vistas, along rivers, stony cuts. Between visits, in my car, by myself. I weep.
I turn off my phone when I go to bed. I turn off my computer, too. Sometimes I don't check my messages for days. Then I do. Everett, one might say, I am desperate or distressed, really distressed or depressed or down, really down. I know when they say those words they are speaking about suicide. That's why I turn off my phone. I turn it off to live in dread of when I turn it back on. I live in dread I will find out someone killed himself. I don't believe I can stop anyone from killing himself. But who knows? A friend in need is a friend in deed. But there is a limit. I need my sleep, too, and I often don't sleep well. Do I just leave my phone on? This is a part-time job. Sometimes, I do all my hours on one day. But I can't ignore the calls and emails all the other days. I don't buy the bullshit slogan ‘no vet left behind.’ Vets are left behind every day. I take my chances. One day I may leave a vet behind.
Take me to Main Street, will ya, please? Fill out the goddamn form first—I bark out my answer. He goes to work at 3:30. We gotta get my stuff before that, he whines. I sigh. Always some bullshit. Then you'll do the fuckin form? We gotta get the fuckin’ thing in today. It takes a week to process. OK. OK. Homeless. He's sleeping at an abandoned church. Probably went broke making signs: "Church of the Living God," "Pillar & Ground of the Truth," "Jesus is Lord," "The Living Waters." He's been sleeping on concrete. Sleeps terribly. Feels terrible. Found a foam rubber pad for him. Bought lunch—he devoured like a starving animal. Brain damage. Probably PTSD, too. So much sorrow in his life. So much sorrow filling out a fucking form for foodstamps. So much sorrow being a Marine.
A message from the old timer. Cancelled appointments. Too much pain. I drive over to his place. I walk around to the back of his house, see him through a window. He waves me in. We talk. He agrees to go for a ride. Get some fresh air. I take him to the reservoir. Serene waters. Dark, quiet forest. I've had it, he says. I'm ready to give up. I listen. We watch the sparkling water. He takes a big breath. Then another. They're followed by a big sigh. He relaxes. We sit in silence. We breathe together.
If you or a veteran you know are in need of help, please CLICK HERE for a list of resources.