The Veteran (with love to Our Veterans on this Veterans Day)

He came in using a walker – clearly shaking, very unsteady – with extensive bruises on both arms.  When I saw on the questionnaire that he was 71 years-old, I was surprised.  I would have guessed he was older.  He was accompanied by a friend/caregiver.

As the meeting progressed I came to understand that another attorney had sent them to see me to ask about how best to sell a house that he no longer occupied: land contract, lease with option to purchase, or outright sale?  We discussed tax implications, Medicaid implications, etc..  I offered my advice and told him I would write a letter to his attorney (the attorney who referred him to me) and explain my recommendation.  That was it.  I was done.

I did my usual “nice meeting with you” handshake to the caregiver signaling that it was time to go.  But the client didn’t get out of his chair.

A little more small talk about fishing, and I tried again.  Again he sat.  He wanted to tell me something more.  So I sat back down, and when it was clear I was settled and looking directly at him, he began.

I had been previously advised that this client had a 100% service related disability. Now I learned that his shaking was from Parkinson’s, a result of exposure to Agent Orange, and the reason for his disability.  I learned that he had been a caregiver (24 x 7) for his wife until she died.  He explained that she was “very good about it” – “it” being helping him when he awoke with nightmares from Vietnam.  He said quite plainly that there were things that happened in Vietnam that he never told anyone, and that he would take with him to his grave.

The client meeting had gone rogue.  What he was telling me had nothing to do with the legal issue he presented.  He kept going.

He worries about the toxins that the Gulf War veterans have been exposed to.  He wonders now, if he had known what his service would do to him, whether he would have served or deserted.  He still wakes up with nightmares.  I said something awkward like: “Your Country asked you to serve and you believed in them.”  He nodded and went on.

I was just a child during the Vietnam War. I’ve heard.  I’ve seen the movies.  But sitting there, looking into those cloudy blue eyes; I felt like I had somehow been transported out of my office, that suddenly, in the middle of a routine work day, I was talking to someone who was not with me in the room – rather, this client was still in Vietnam – still reliving episodes that occurred more than 50 years ago. I looked at him and now I could almost see him as a young man.  The whole thing was haunting – maybe “raw” is a better word to describe it.

At some point he became quiet again.  He was finished.  The caregiver helped him back up to his walker.  The client said goodbye and thanked me for my time and advice, and left.  I was back in my office, back in 2015.  As for my client, I’m pretty sure he never came back.