One of the main jobs I’ve done in my life is to assist fellow veterans with disability claims. When I first started, I lived in a small town in Northern Wisconsin. My job was to assist all the veterans in the county with anything to do with the VA. Since the county had a larger bear population than people, I wasn’t overwhelmed with this job and it was a good place to learn what I was doing. It was also a place with some quirky veterans that lived in the woods. This is the story of one of them. We’ll call him “Tim.”
One of the first veterans I met when I began the job was crazy…literally. It wasn’t a gradual thing for him, it came on all at once while he was in the Marines and for one of the worst reasons ever. He had only been in the military for a couple years at the time and found himself on a lot of duty rosters, most notably night-time guard duty. His Platoon Leader seemed to have it in for him and was the one to assign it to him often. Those of you who have served know that there’s not a lot you can do about situations like these.
He had been pulling a night-time guard duty when he was relieved so he could go eat. Usually, he ate where he was at, but this time he forgot to bring food and decided to go home to eat. When he got there, he heard noise from the upstairs. Deciding his wife was awake, he went up to surprise her. Instead, he was the one surprised. In bed with his wife was his Platoon Leader. All the night-time guard duty suddenly made sense but sense didn’t figure in this equation…voices did. Something went haywire and he suddenly heard voices in his head that told him just what to do.
The Platoon Leader jumped up out of the bed and tried to get away. Tim intercepted him and did exactly what the voices told him to do. They said throw the man out the second-story window. They tussled around before Tim grabbed ahold of the man and flung both of them out the window, twisting and turning so that he landed on top of his Platoon Leader. There was a broken back and soon Tim found himself being chaptered out of the Marines on a medical discharge. He had suddenly become schizophrenic, his wife filed for divorce, and because of his condition, he was prohibited from ever seeing his daughter again.
By the time I met Tim, he had been out of the service for a few years. He had a crazy look in his eyes but retained a pretty good sense of humor. He came in to see me a couple times a week even after we were able to get him 100% service-connected. I didn’t mind and found we talked with each other quite easily. My Assistant couldn’t stand him because she felt he was too pushy. He was, but I tolerated it because of everything he had been through.
One day I decided to take the afternoon off to work on my garden at home a whole two blocks away. He went in to see me, found out I took off, and then drove to my house to see me. I was weeding my garden when he rolled up. I admit I was annoyed because I’ve always believed that work should be at work and home should be at home. All he did was small talk and then ask me if he could pick some of the ripe tomatoes, onions, hot peppers, and a couple herbs. Just so he would go, I said take what you want. He did and left.
I was annoyed enough that I shared my annoyance with my Assistant the next morning. Of course, since she didn’t like Tim anyway, we had a regular bash-fest in his name. When he showed up a little later, she gave him an earful about going to my house. He actually took the chewing out with politeness before putting a bag on the counter to give to me. I came out of my office to smooth things over when he pushed the bag towards me. Inside the bag was three jars of salsa he had made from my garden. Then he left. I felt horrible.
This man that we assumed to be a bothersome crazy guy made some of the best salsa I’ve ever had. Both my Assistant and I continued to feel horrible for the next couple weeks because he didn’t visit like he used to. He didn’t have a phone (living in the woods and all) and I didn’t know where he lived. We just waited. Then one day his award letter from the VA arrived showing his backpay was enormous. I figured he would get the same letter and would finally come back to see me. He did a couple days later.
ME: Hey Tim! Did you get your award letter?
TIM: Yeah I did.
ME: Now you can buy yourself a house or something, huh?
ME: Oh, well, what’re you going to do with all that money?
TIM: I can’t touch it.
ME: What? But it’s your’s!
TIM: I put it all into a trust account for my daughter. She’ll get it when she turns 21 years old.
I was speechless. He had done exactly what he said. To top it off, he did it for a daughter he wasn’t even allowed to see. The trust was irrevocable and he would never get access to that money again. Between the salsa and the backpay, he had shown himself to be a better person than most of the people I know.
He was wrapped in a skin that scared people, put them off, and made them avoid him. It was all a lie. Inside that wrapper was gold. I learned a valuable lesson that I applied to the rest of my life.