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"Happy" Vet Finally Gets Disability Benefits, Thanks to Strangers

Photo: "Happy" on the streets of Asheville. Courtesy: Joshua Martin
Photo: "Happy" on the streets of Asheville. Courtesy: Joshua Martin
July 29, 2013

ASHEVILLE, N.C. - Park your car in downtown Asheville and chances are there's a "parking meter angel" watching to make sure you don't get a ticket. He goes by "Happy" and, in his wheelchair, the homeless veteran uses what little money he has to feed meters and help people avoid parking tickets. But he says no one helped him four years ago when he lost his leg after a spider bite got infected. He couldn't work at his landscaping and catering jobs anymore and he said the VA lost his paperwork when he applied for disability benefits.

"I've been out here on this street for four years," Happy declared. "I mean rain, sleet and snow. I'll be out here because me and my family stay in a motel, and that bill has to be paid every day."

One month ago concerned citizens got involved, and starting next month Happy will receive disability benefits.

This month, North Carolina's Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan announced $6 million in federal funding to help 2400 homeless or at-risk veterans' families find permanent homes.

The Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry will receive more than $700,000 from the grant to help 300 veterans and their families. According to the Reverend Scott Rogers, they'll be able to double the number of people usually served.

"Once we can get them a stable income stream and they're able to get into low-income, permanent, supportive housing, with that they're able to lead a very independent life."

Happy worked as a supervisor for a technology company in New Orleans before he was displaced by Hurricane Katrina. He's also battling cancer and said he'll get off the street once his first check comes.

"But it never would have happened if I didn't have the people backing me," he declared.

Rogers said his organization has identified 3700 veterans in western North Carolina who are homeless or at risk. The state has the second-highest concentration of military veterans in the country.

Stephanie Carroll Carson/Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - NC