VA fix-it funds help modify home for Vietnam veteran

07/18/2012 12:00 AM

07/18/2012 6:23 AM

When he was 20, Otis Dorsey served a year installing communications lines in Vietnam, a world away from the tiny Alabama town where he was raised. After completing his stint in the Army, he came home unhurt, or so he thought for the next few decades.

"I remember them spraying Agent Orange," said Dorsey, now 66, who lives in south Sacramento and is retired from a 25-year career with the federal government. "We were out there working while they were spraying.

"We got damp from it, but they told us it wasn't nothing that would kill you. It would kill the vegetation."

Today, he suffers from type 2 diabetes, diagnosed in 1990 when he was only 44, and Parkinson's disease, diagnosed eight years ago. Both diseases are among the ailments the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs links with Agent Orange exposure.

Diabetic complications led to the amputation of Dorsey's right leg, and he has cellulitis in his left leg. He also developed kidney problems as well as congestive heart failure.

"Gosh, what else have you had?" said his wife, Diane Jones Dorsey, 59, a retired state analyst.

"I'm still up and moving," her husband replied. "I try to keep a positive attitude."

To help him keep moving, and to help make the rest of the world accessible to him, a $63,780 Veterans Affairs grant last year renovated the Dorseys' home, which they bought in 1984, and adapted it to his mobility and medical needs.

Depending on his pain level, Dorsey sometimes uses a walker, sometimes a wheelchair.

"Our agents get a great deal of satisfaction from helping veterans make their houses more user-friendly," said Susan Lloyd, a Phoenix VA official who helps oversee the regional specially adapted housing grant program.

Any military veteran with service-connected mobility problems can apply for the program, she said.

"With the renovations, they can actually take a shower without problems," she said. "They can get in and out of the house safely."

With the VA's assistance, the Dorseys' contractor repoured the driveway, widened doorways, eliminated steps into and out of the house and, most strikingly, renovated the master bedroom to include a spacious, walk-in shower and large, separate bathroom.

The Dorseys learned about the program through a local Disabled American Veterans chapter, said Jones Dorsey.

Before the renovations, if Dorsey needed to leave the house – for a doctor's appointment, for example – he relied on his lifelong friend, 67-year-old Fred Toles, to help lift him in and out of the house.

"Now I can do it on my own," Dorsey said. "I can get around the house on my own, too."

The remodeling took four months, ending late last October. Three VA specially adapted housing agents handle some 12,000 cases in the Sacramento region, said VA officials.

"I tell Otis, 'You served your country, and you deserve this,' " said Jones Dorsey. " 'You did what they asked you to do. Now that you're not able to do for yourself, let them help you.' And they've taken care of him.

"But some veterans are still waiting. It takes persistence."


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