The Veterans Administrations (V.A.) and other agencies and non-profits spend billions supporting the millions of veterans who have fought to defend the nation.
There is also a small army of civilians and ex-military personnel who devote their time and dime freely to support veterans.
Dr. Vivian Anderson is one of those soldiers in that army.
Throughout the week, thousands of veterans converge on the Veterans Medical Clinic, next to huge hospital in Hampton where they receive medical care for their physical and emotional ailments.
When not providing rides for them to and from the center, Anderson can be found walking about talking to the men and women veterans and handing out words of encouragement and one of her cards, telling them to call her if they have problems with the V.A.
She runs the Volunteers Improving Virginia Human Development Community Development Corporation. She says that through her advocacy agency, she has become a thorn in the side of local V.A. administrators.
“When I am out in front of that center, I am asking them if they are receiving proper care and assistance,” said Anderson, a civil rights advocate for various causes, including veterans.
“I have heard horror stories about long waits for appointments for routine care or nurses or doctors ignoring their complaints of pain and/or depression,” she continued. “I have run across veterans who fought for their country, were wounded and are in need. But the Veterans Administration has denied their claims…for various reasons.”
Anderson said that many of the veterans she has encountered have served in the U.S. military during WWII, the Korean and Vietnam Conflicts and in recent wars.
While many of them fought valiantly overseas against the nation’s enemies, Anderson said many vets are struggling against the V.A. bureaucracy at home when they return.
“They do not know what to do,” she said. “They get tired of fighting the stubborn and uncaring V.A. benefits personnel, the complex paperwork or other obstacles. But I have devoted my time to help them with fighting the system, wading through the paperwork and having faith and patience to get them what they need.”
In the coming weeks, Anderson will be writing about her efforts to help veterans around Hampton Roads to secure their benefits in a column in New Journal and Guide.
One of her most interesting cases involves Edward J. Johnson, who is 93-years-old.
Johnson enlisted in the U.S. Navy a year after WWII. Like most Blacks at that time, he was a steward.
During the Korean and Vietnam Conflicts and other U.S. military adventures, for two decades and 38 different ships, he served in the Regular and Reserve U.S. Navy. Then he served in the Civil Service.
According to Anderson, Jefferson was not only a cook, he did jobs, including combat and repair roles aboard ship.
He and other shipmates had to unload refuse and other materials from ships sitting off shore of South Vietnam to land where they waded in water and walked in foliage onshore.
Jefferson eventually retired from the labor force in 1987.
But age and various ailments related to his service career began to catch up with him, according to Anderson. He suffers from various cardiovascular ailments, including lung cancer, as well PTSD.
Jefferson was exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam.
Agent Orange was used by the U.S. military to destroy the thick forest and trees the Viet Cong used to hide and wage war against U.S. troops. Now the V.A. is spending millions combating the various diseases veterans are experiencing.
But Anderson said that despite all of Jefferson’s service, when he filed for benefits he was denied until Anderson was alerted about his battle and intervened.
The DD Form 214 is a Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty from the United States Department of Defense and details the member’s retirement, separation, or discharge from active duty in the Armed Forces of the United States. Anderson said that Jefferson’s DD214 did not list any of the ships or other duty stations where he served.
That prompted her to file a series of documents including a “Statement of Claim” to acquire information proving when and where Jefferson had served.
She managed also to link Jefferson’s ailments to his service, including his exposure to Agent Orange.
Most of the vessels he served on had asbestos on the bulk heads (walls) and other areas of the vessels. This, according to medical experts, attributes to respiratory problems, including lung cancer.
“He now has 100 percent compensation financially and medically for his problems,” Anderson said. “Also, I am working on getting him paid up for money he did not get as far back as 2014. He is sitting good now. But there are many other veterans like Mr. Jefferson who are not.”
Anderson said her activism for veterans has a personal basis.
Clementine Holloman, her mother, met Henry L. Deloatch, her father, when Clementine and family members were traveling via train from Ahoskie to Goldsboro, North Carolina where Clementine’s mother was ailing in the hospital.
When they reached Rocky Mount, she recalls having to transfer to another train and this is how she and Henry’s paths crossed. He was leaving the military in 1946.
The two were smitten with each other and after exchanging letters and a two-year courtship they married. Eventually the couple moved to Norfolk and began a family which would produce six children.
He worked as a contractor for a highway construction firm, and she was a housewife, living happily until things changed in 1956.
“One day I recall my husband got sick and he had symptoms similar to flu,” said Clementine Deloatch, now 88. “He had problems walking. We called a doctor and he summoned an ambulance to take him to the hospital.”
Two weeks later the doctors at the Hampton Veterans Hospital diagnosed his problem as polio. He stayed at the veterans hospital a year before he was allowed to return home.
“When he came home we had to help him with rehabilitation,” said Mrs. Deloatch. “He had to use a wheelchair. But we managed.”
In the late 1950s, before the construction of the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel to the peninsula, commuters had to use ferries.
“For months, we had to go every week to Hampton with Henry to the hospital for something at the V.A. Hospital,” said Deloatch. “But he was determined to live a normal life.”
Anderson believes he was the first Black person to be invited by the Warm Springs Foundation to Warm Springs, Georgia to the Polio Rehabilitation Center created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR). Like the late President, whose legs were useless, Henry Deloatch outfitted his car with special hand-gears to drive his car.
At one time In 1959, when the Deloatch family moved to an all-White neighborhood on Indian River Road near the former Ford Plant, their home was firebombed.
“I awoke to my mother yelling and telling us to get out of the house. It was on fire,” recalled Anderson. “My parents slept in a bedroom on the first floor because my dad could not climb the stairs. We were getting out of the house. But my dad could not move and told us to leave him and save ourselves. My 13-year-old sister ran back into the house, put Daddy in his wheelchair, and rolled him out.”
Anderson recalls that her father received very little assistance from the V.A.
“We had to go on welfare,” she said. “My mother did not work. My father got a small stipend from the V.A. We got more assistance from the Norfolk Foundation of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (Polio).”
“He never complained or fought because he did not know how,” said Anderson, whose father died in 1996 at 72. “He had six kids to feed and clothe. We survived, but struggled.”
She continued, “This is why I am working so hard today to make sure that veterans have access to every dime of benefits they can get so they do not have to struggle like my father did.”
By Leonard E. Colvin