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Steven Bogert moving toward permanent home

William Paine/SWT
Steven Bogert stands in the doorway of his new residence on Union Street in Salem.



It was last Monday morning when I received a call from Steven Bogert from his room at the Budget Inn in Pulaski. He told me that a representative for the Veterans Association had just given him the address of what would become his new home.

The address was on Union Street in Salem. All he needed was a ride, so I volunteered to give to take him there. It seemed appropriate. At this point, it felt like Steven and I been on this ride together for a while now.

The first story I wrote about Steven Bogert was back in November for the Veterans Day edition of The Southwest Times. I’d seen an older looking gent with bands around his knees (Steven) walking along the road into town for months and figured he might make for a good story.

I found out that Steven was a Veteran of the Navy who was living in a tent outside of town. Steven also told me that the Veterans Administration had failed him, in that he used to receive disability payments but that had stopped because they had lost his file. As a consequence, Steven never had more than a few dollars to his name.

Though he had chosen to live in this rugged manner, his story garnered much attention and sympathy as winter was approaching and Steven Bogert was no spring chicken. Various individuals either donated items, gift cards and even cash to Steven, with many of them using The Southwest Times as a conduit for their giving.

Others knew Steven independently of the newspaper. Sandra Offutt, for example, regularly gave Steven a ride into town and when the weather started getting colder, she and some others gathered enough funds to put Steven up in the Budget Inn.

Even more significantly, Offutt gave Steven her own Galaxy 10 cellphone to use.

After several weeks of staying at the Budget Inn, Steven returned to his tent in the woods near exit 94 of Interstate 81. He is by nature a hearty fellow and when the weather worsened, I figured this old Navy man would tough it out, just as he’d done in the past.

But unbeknownst to me, Steven Bogert’s health was taking a turn for the worse. In the early morning hours of Monday, Jan. 11, Steven had what he is convinced was a heart attack. Unable to move, his cellphone became critical to his survival. He called Lloyd and Jennifer Akers, a couple who had befriended Steven. They immediately called for an ambulance.

Steven used his cellphone to call me from LewisGale Hospital Pulaski and tell me what had happened. He then explained how his heart rate had been out of control, he had pneumonia, he had an intestinal infection and likely a blood clot or two.

He said this with an insouciance that I learned was typical of Steven Bogert.

“When I came to the Pulaski Hospital, they all came in all grave looking like they were my pall bearers, you know?” Steven recounted. “And I started laughing to myself. I said, ‘They don’t know this kid at all!’ I might be beat up and down right now but I am going to get up. I’ve been in a lot of barroom brawls in my life. Sometimes you lay there and you can’t get back up … takes a while.”

After receiving Steven’s call from the hospital, I called Thomas Herthel, the Deputy Commissioner of Virginia Department of Veterans Services. I’d met Herthal at a ceremony at the Southwest Virginia Veterans Cemetery and figured he might be able to come through for an old Vet like Steven.

The next day one or maybe even two representatives from the VA came to call on Steven and they have been in constant communication ever since. Steven had been hospitalized for over a week and the morning he was set to be released, he thought he would have to return to his tent.

Though he was in better health than when he first arrived, Steven was still very weak. He lost 60 pounds in the hospital, almost all of it in excess fluid that had built up in his legs. I couldn’t imagine him spending the next night outside.

Before being discharged, Steven found out that the VA had arranged for him to stay in the Budget Inn in Pulaski until they could arrange for a more permanent living situation for him.

Steven appreciated his motel accommodations for sure but things got lively at times. One particular evening, a fellow tried breaking though his window to extract payment for services rendered by his “girlfriend.” It was a case of mistaken identity and Steven explained as much to the would be intruder, who melted back into the night.

Steven was grateful for his warm room and had, at this point, befriended several people in and around Pulaski. Even so, when Kerra of the VA gave him the address of his new residence in Salem, he was happy to hear the news.

I came to the Budget Inn last Tuesday to pick Steven up and take him to Salem. Along with items like a new tent someone gave him, Steven had a half dozen trash bags he was using to store his clothes and other personal items. We loaded them all into the van and headed down the mountain and out of the New River Valley.

We talked along the way. When I first met Steven I thought he might be a little crazy. He is, after all, convinced that he saw Bigfoot once in the mountains of Montana.

But no, he is by no means unhinged. He’s just colorful and converses easily about most anything that you might want to talk about.

When we arrived in Salem, Vicky Royer, his Housing Case Manager through the VA, was there to meet us. Her job is specifically geared towards finding housing for homeless Vets.

A.J. Everett, the landlord, was also there to present Steven the key to his new digs.

Having never spoken directly to Steven’s case managers at the VA, I was under the impression that this would be his permanent residence but it was not. Instead, this was a communal living type situation that will be used as a sort of waystation until a permanent living situation can be achieved.

Steven will have to pay rent for his new residence, but as he will now be receiving disability and some back pay, he will be able to meet these costs once he establishes a bank account. The VA will then deposit money in his account on a monthly basis.

Apparently, the VA had stopped depositing money for Steven because they thought he was dead. According to Steven, VA doctors thought he would be dead a long time ago.

“They thought I would be kicking off when I was 58 years old,” Steven recounted. “Then I got healthy, so I thought I’d go around the country kind of like my bucket list. I lived in a tent for eight years. I’ve found pyramids in America. I’ve got artifacts around the country. I found new fossil beds and I found dinosaur eggs. I’ve been hiking all over the country and I have pictures to prove it.”

Though not a permanent living situation, this Union Street structure did represent a significant improvement in Steven Bogert’s living standard. There are four rooms in this one story building, each with its own color TV, mini fridge, microwave and private bathroom. There is also a more elaborate kitchen area for all the residents to use, as well as a living room area in front.

The structure was built only five years ago and was initially used as a home for the mentally deficient. Everett, the landlord, decided to get out of that business and instead dedicate the building’s use to housing homeless Vets.

Steven is the first Veteran to stay there, as there were as yet no other residents of the building but that will likely change soon.

I asked Everett if this was a good neighborhood.

“This is Salem,” said Everett. “There is no bad area in Salem. We’ve got the police department in four blocks, the fire department in four blocks, the rescue squad in four blocks, the library four blocks. It just don’t come any better than that.”

Steven was clearly happy with his new digs. It is clean. It is bright and perhaps, most importantly, it is warm and dry.

Steven now considers me to be his friend and I guess that’s about right. He’s even taken to calling me by my first name, though I kind of liked when he referred to me simply as Paine.

After shooting a quick video, which can be found on The Southwest Times Facebook page, I shook Steven’s hand and bid him adieu.

It’s kind of a shame that after all the help he’s received and the friends he’s made here in Pulaski, that he’ll now be living in faraway Salem, Virginia.

But he’s undoubtedly better off than he was last November or last week for that matter.

In any case, he still has my phone number and I suppose I’ll need to deliver this paper to him at some point in the not too distant future.

We’ll let Steven settle in and maybe check in with him again in the coming months when he gets his own apartment.

Until then, we at The Southwest Times and many others besides, want to wish Steven Bogert good luck and good health.



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