Monday, November 16, 2009

City workers get Vietnam vet new home

This is a nice story that I thought I would share. There are still a lot VietNam era vets in need out there.

by By Leigh Jones / The Daily News

Posted on November 15, 2009 at 12:53 PM

Updated yesterday at 2:15 PM

* Galveston Daily News Web site

LEAGUE CITY — Vietnam veteran Jim Stepanski’s trailer on Willow Lane became unlivable after water damage from hurricanes Rita and Ike caused the walls to peel and wore holes in the floor.

Mold coated the interior. Rats and raccoons infested the structure.

Stepanski, 61, lived in the trailer until a local police officer and fellow Vietnam veteran decided to take action.

City employees officially gave Stepanski the keys to a new trailer Saturday afternoon. His new home sits on the site where his former trailer was.

League City police officer William Gates made a welfare check on Stepanski on June 1 after a family member could not reach the man on his birthday. Gates and Stepanski talked for a while about their war experiences, especially the disconnect from society they felt upon returning home. The two shared an instant bond.

“We’re from a forgotten era,” Gates said. “When I came home in 1970, I was screamed at and spit on. Police officers told me not to wear my uniform in public because it would cause an uproar.”

The new home is handicapped accessible. Stepanski received shrapnel injuries in Vietnam, making it difficult to walk. He also suffers from a chronic lung condition, which was caused by exposure to Agent Orange, Stepanski said. The disabilities keep him from working, he said.

His worst injury was invisible to the human eye. Stepanski withdrew from society and lived alone for years after returning from combat as a way to deal with the horrible memories of war that haunted him. Large crowds and constant loud noises still cause him to suffer panic attacks, he said.

“I now realize that what I had was post-traumatic stress disorder,” Stepanski said. “Back then my doctors just told me to put the war behind me and try to forget about it. There was no counseling for it back then.”

Gates felt a duty to help Stepanski, he said. He went to the city’s animal control and code enforcement departments to see if there was any assistance available.

Code Enforcement Officer Chris Torres stepped up.

When Torres first visited Stepanski’s home, it was hardly visible from the street because of overgrown brush and trash, she said. Torres appealed to other city employees to donate money, or help clean the site.

The Bay Area Builders Association Support Our Troops Inc. and Catholic Charities donated money for the trailer, which came with new furniture.

City employees from about seven different departments volunteered to remove Stepanski’s old trailer, cleaned the site and installed the new one. It was the first time the city has done a volunteer endeavor of that magnitude, she said.

Stepanski’s new home has given him a sense of hope and overwhelming gratitude for the city employees who made it possible, he said.

“I have no words right now,” Stepanski said. “I’m still taking it all in.”
This story was brought to you through our partnership with the Galveston Daily News.

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