southtownstar
OMINOUS 
Weather Updates

Coats for homeless veterans being collected in Joliet, New Lenox

Lou Vargas  |  Supplied photo

Lou Vargas | Supplied photo

storyidforme: 59751035
tmspicid: 21602099
fileheaderid: 10188698

Coat drive

Drop off new or gently used coats at the Veterans Assistance Commission of Will County, 128 N. Scott St., Joliet, or at Harry E. Anderson Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9545, 323 Old Hickory Road, New Lenox. Questions? Call Lou Vargas at 815-726-8084.

Updated: January 27, 2014 12:31PM



After faithfully serving their country, veterans should not be living under bridges and viaducts.

So says Lou Vargas, 67, of Crest Hill, who is collecting and distributing new and gently used coats to homeless veterans.

Granted, the downturn in the economy plays a role in veteran homelessness, but so do the disabilities veterans incurred while on active duty. And while government financial assistance is available for some, the paperwork “takes so doggone long,” Vargas said.

The delays irk Vargas, who is the commander of Harry E. Anderson Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9545 in New Lenox and also of Disabled American Veterans Chapter 103 in Crest Hill, as well as vice chairman of the Veterans Assistance Commission of Will County.

“We didn’t sit around and say, ‘We’ll go when we have time,’” said Vargas, who also is a disabled veteran. “We went when we were called.”

Vargas will collect coats until spring. Because until the cold weather breaks, he said, a homeless veteran somewhere will need a coat to warm him.

“I believe in America,” Vargas said. “I believe in God and country. I just wish things would turn out better for veterans.”

Come January, veterans also can stop from 9 a.m. to noon each Tuesday at the New Lenox VFW, 323 Old Hickory Road, to meet with James Daugherty, a service officer from Disabled American Veterans Chapter 103. Since last February, 300 people have met with Daugherty there, Vargas said.

“I get calls constantly about benefits or paperwork,” Vargas said, “and I send them right down to Jim. You can walk in with no appointment. Like Danny Thomas’ St. Jude, no one gets turned down.”

Vargas didn’t get his “disabled” status until 2004, despite experiencing severe kidney, bladder and prostate infections that he believes resulted from exposure to Agent Orange — as well as almost losing his right leg in March of 1967 in a fire attack while serving in Vietnam.

“One of the guys accidentally threw an 8-inch round weighing 200 pounds,” Vargas said. “It fell on my kneecap. They kept shooting me up with morphine until I told them I didn’t want it anymore. So they more or less got me up on crutches and moved me around.”

After returning home from Vietnam — and being spat upon, he said, after landing at O’Hare International Airport — Vargas worked first as an auto mechanic and in industrial maintenance. He first sought financial assistance for his disability in 1999 and recalls the “exam” at one veterans hospital.

“The doctor told me to walk across the room,” Vargas said. “He said, ‘There’s nothing wrong with your leg.’ No X-rays, no nothing. I got turned down.”

Three weeks ago, Vargas received laser treatments for arthritis in his lower back — and he’s due to have more — but that hasn’t stopped him from fighting for veterans’ rights.

“I’ll keep kicking until they put me in a box,” Vargas said. “I’m not going to sit in front of a TV and watch ‘Lucy’ all day. I want to do something to give back.”

Sometimes “giving back” simply means replying to a frantic message a veteran left on Vargas’ answering machine by directing that man to a source where he can find assistance.

“I feel like the Shell Answer Man,” Vargas said, “and I love it.”

“Giving back” also means helping out the mother of his former next-door neighbor, who was killed in Vietnam in 1969. The night before the neighbor left, he looked Vargas in the eye and said, “I want you to take care of my mother,” according to Vargas.

“And I do,” Vargas said. “My wife shovels her sidewalks and we take her wherever she needs to go. I feel this is my obligation, to do this for him.”

Vargas wishes veterans received better treatment overall, but said the “welcome home” parties of recent years are a good first step. He believes every soldier deserves a parade and celebration.

“Man or woman. It doesn’t matter,” Vargas said. “They fight for our country. They do what they’re told to do. They deserve the right and dignity to be respected.”



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.