Disabled Anchorage veteran's plight draws plea for help
As an Anchorage veteran who lost his legs waits for assistance with access to his home, VA leaders in Alaska say the system is trying to help.
"The Air Force was good to me," said Richard Keith. "I got to see parts of the world and got a chance to meet my wife."
Richard Keith spent most of his life serving our country.
"I served quite a bit: a year in Vietnam, most of the time I was in Japan, and then I ended up here and I didn't want to leave here," Keith said. "But they ended up putting me in New Mexico and I said OK; I put my paperwork in and my wife said, 'Let's go back to Alaska.' (I) came right back up, got a job with the Air Force again, only this time as a civilian."
Keith and his wife Taki lived in their home together until her death.
"We were married for 51 years and she passed away four years ago, so I've been by myself ever since," said Keith.
After her death, Richard lost his right leg to diabetes. Just a year ago, he lost the other leg.
"The doc saw it and he said gangrene and he said, 'You have 10 days to make up your mind; if not, it's going to kill you,' so they took off the other leg," Keith said.
During this hard time, Keith's neighbor Wes Bascom helped him build a temporary ramp. But now that winter has hit, he is facing another obstacle: just getting to his front door.
"When I rolled in I looked at that and said, 'Oh boy, let's see if I can get up this thing,'" Keith said. "So I got about the first part was steep and then I could grip it; I hit some slick spot and down I went. He and his wife saw me and here they come; he lifted me up and took me inside the house."
His neighbors worry the next time could be worse.
"My concern is Richard falling again," Bascom said. "He's lost both legs now and he definitely can't be handling those falls. If I could do anything for Richard I will. I would build him a new ramp, but finances I just can't cut it. If he doesn't get into housing he needs a ramp; that is the absolute things that needs to be done right."
For now Keith sits in his chair and waits for a new ramp from the VA, or housing that is more wheelchair-friendly.
"I'm trying to get out of here and find a decent place to live," Keith said. "It used to be I could keep up with it, I could nail things together and hammer and all that good stuff, but now I can't do it. If it probably wasn't for him I would be in a lot of trouble; I have good neighbors."
Keith is thankful for his community, but Bascom says they can't do enough to thank him.
"He's a Vietnam vet -- he served our country," Bascom said. "He did for us what we and what I couldn't do and he's a good man. He's a value to our community so I care about Richard, my wife does and our neighborhood does."
For now, Keith has more issues than he can handle but says he does the best he can.
There are many veterans facing some of the same problems Keith faces and the Alaska VA is working to help. VA officials say it's a lengthy process, but they're readying a one-stop shop for those in need.
"That is an office where any veterans can call, email or walk in during our business hours and afterward for emails and we will try to get them the services or information to navigate the system," said Timothy Ballard, the Alaska VA's director. "We realize this system sucks and we are doing what we can to improve the process."
VA staff say it's a new era. The agency is trying to do more outreach programs this year.
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