Rafael Stoneman: New Column Takes a Closer Look at Veterans’ Issues
When I heard from the staff at Gold Coast Veterans Foundation about Mikey Simpson, 56, a homeless veteran who grew up in Camarillo, I was determined to find him. I wanted to talk to him about his story, get to know him and help any way I could to get him his new prosthetic leg.
I found Simpson sitting in front of the 7-Eleven on Carmen Drive one winter morning. He was friendly and talkative, and I liked his unpretentious personality right away. Because it was raining, it was important to help him find a dry place to sleep that night.
I introduced him to my dog, Leo. After that, he trusted me enough to put his bike and bags into my minivan so that we could find him a dry place to stay.
Not having an exact plan, we drove over to the Gold Coast Veterans Foundation, where J.C. Oberst, executive director, told me the Camarillo Police Department gives vouchers for Motel 6 on days that are really cold or rainy.
While driving to Simpson’s dad’s house in Camarillo, to pick up some of his stored items, I learned that Simpson served in the Army from 1978 to 1983. Four months after his honorable discharge, he was in a motorcycle accident on his Harley in Oxnard. His left leg was almost completely severed. Over the course of the next two years, doctors tried to save the leg, but eventually they had to amputate.
Because of the trauma, Simpson’s weight fluctuated, making it hard for him to get situated with a properly fitting leg. He went through seven prosthetic legs in 10 years. His weight was steady at 165 before the accident, but he dropped to 130 pounds after.
When his weight went back up to normal, his prosthetic leg no longer fit. After a knee-down amputation, the upper muscles of the affected leg no longer work naturally. Because they’re not being used as they once were, the upper leg muscles slowly atrophied and blood circulation lessened—causing great pain.
For many years Simpson lived with his parents in Camarillo. He moved out about 3½ years ago, but it is unclear why. I asked if he’d gotten into some kind of dispute with his parents, and he said he hadn’t; he said he just didn’t stay there anymore but stored some of his possessions in their backyard.
When we arrived there, Simpson unpacked three large trash bags. Every item within them was meticulously wrapped in its own smaller bag. Rubber bands or ties were used to close each individual bag. His belongings were orderly, clean and ready for any kind of weather.
While he organized and inventoried his belongings, I called VA health benefits. Incredibly, in the 35 years since his honorable discharge from the Army, Simpson never applied for VA benefits or healthcare. It took about 30 minutes on the phone to get him into the VA system and approved for health benefits.
When I called the Camarillo Police Department about getting Simpson a voucher for Motel 6, they told me there had to be “heavy rain.” I asked that they define “heavy.” The deputy said it had to be “more than a drizzle.” It was less than a drizzle at the time, so we went and got something to eat. How can anyone but a meteorologist predict the rain necessary to qualify for the program?
After eating, Simpson told me to drop him off at a shopping center, where we unloaded his bike and bags. In the event that the rain became “more than a drizzle,” I gave him my cell number and the number to the Camarillo Police Department.
Simpson is also eligible to apply for the VASH voucher (housing assistance for homeless vets), but my sense is that Simpson might prefer to live outside. I asked him about that and he said, “Well, I am an infantryman after all.”
And then he smiled in that charming way that only people who feel free to be themselves know.
Simpson said he “just wants a new leg.” Gold Coast Veterans Foundation is committed to helping him. I am helping him get his veteran’s ID card and am driving him to his doctor’s appointments to ensure it happens.
Rafael Stoneman, a former Ventura County homeless veteran, now volunteers for the Camarillo-based Gold Coast Veterans Foundation, a nonprofit organization. For more details, visit www.gcvf.org.
Source: The Camarillo Acorn – May 11, 2018 edition