I didn't intend to read any symbolism into the condition of this flag that was hanging on the chain-link fence of Old Maplewood Cemetery in Durham. But then I met Reggie Best.
On Memorial Day, we remember the people who died in American wars—41 million service members and an untold number of civilians. There are 21.5 million veterans still living, and many of them have PTSD and/or physical disabilities incurred as a result of their service. And more than 57,000 veterans are homeless on any given night, according to federal estimates.
One of those homeless veterans is Reggie Best, whom I heard singing the blues this week in a park in downtown Durham. He served in the Navy from 1982–1986. If you sit and talk with him a while, he will tell you he's made some poor decisions in his life, but he also got some bad breaks: While Reggie was in jail—he has a short temper, he says—thieves broke into his trailer and stole everything he owned.
Reggie is 51 and from Sanford, but he's in Durham, he says, because next week he starts 30 days of radiation treatment for lymphoma of the stomach at the VA Hospital.
The scandals at the VA are legendary: Veterans are routinely denied benefits as paper shufflers and VA lawyers drag out the process. (See the INDY's coverage of this issue in "The VA is waiting for us to die," published in March 2007.)
The most recent injustice involves secret wait lists, inaccurate reporting of wait times and scheduling problems that nationwide are preventing veterans from receiving timely health care.
I wonder how Reggie will fare in the VA system, if he will get the same level of care as generals and colonels do.
"My mother died of stomach cancer," Reggie told me. "It's worrisome ... I have to face this alone."
See a short film about Reggie Best here.