Grimesland veteran battling cancer, Parkinson's, receives aid from nonprofit

Reflector | November 10, 2021 | Link to Article

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Roscoe Howard knows the importance of teamwork when it comes to a fight. 

As the 72-year-old Vietnam veteran battles Parkinson’s disease and prostate cancer, he has the benefit of a strong community on his side.

Howard and his wife, Martha, who live in Grimesland, have received aid from Semper Fi and America’s Fund (The Fund), a national nonprofit group founded by military spouses that supports combat wounded, critically ill and injured service members, veterans and families across all armed services branches.

Howard was introduced to The Fund by his neighbor, a U.S. Marine and fellow Vietnam veteran.

Howard enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1969 and was soon deployed to South Vietnam. After serving two tours, he decided to join the National Guard. He spent 20 years in service, including a 1990 stint in Saudi Arabia when he was a 1st Sergeant.

Howard returned to Fort Bragg following his service in Saudi Arabia. He then reported to Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, for surgery on his neck. He rehabbed there for a year and retired from the service in 1994.

After his return to Grimesland years later, Howard was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and realized he needed assistance. He had lost contact with family doctors, receiving all care through the VA Hospital in Pitt County. That’s when his neighbor told him about The Fund and how it could help.

“We were not that familiar with what they could do,” Martha said. “The first thing that The Fund did was send a welcome home package of comfort food. That kind of blew our minds because we actually had never been treated that well.”

Along with the food, The Fund sent gift cards for hygiene and medical supplies. It also helped connect Howard with family doctors to supplement his care through the VA. Working with the VA hospital, The Fund has helped Howard get a medical mattress so he can get out of bed more easily, and made modifications to his home to ease his day-to-day functions.

Matt Rocco, Howard’s case manager with The Fund, said that accessibility upgrades in areas like the bathroom can cost between $12,000 and $20,000. That includes converting the tub to a walk-in shower and making doors wheelchair accessible.

“One of the new things that started at the VA that we helped him with was the Comprehensive Family Caregiver Program,” Rocco said. “It was paid for to help his wife become his official caregiver, which enabled her to get a monthly stipend and become the point of contact for coordinating his care. Usually you have to have the veteran on the phone.”

The stipend has helped alleviate some financial need. The Fund also helped the Howards get a step for his truck and, most importantly, an emergency generator.

“We want to make sure if the power goes out, with a lot of these guys on oxygen,” Rocco said. “It is good to have power with their being home a lot and having frozen food or food in the fridge. Food, hygiene, gas gift cards and things that go beyond their budget and help with quality of life. Things to make them feel a bit more special and aware of what programs they are eligible for.”

The Howards say that the VA has also been very helpful, working with his doctors and others to ensure he receives quality care. Howard said that veterans often do need help and that it is important to him to have people who listen to his needs.

“I have never been disappointed by (The Fund),” Howard said. “They have always given me answers. They take action.”

“When I talk to him he is very happy to work with us,” Rocco said. “He has been super genuine and has been through a lot. Now he can do more of the things he likes.”

Those looking to support The Fund will have donations matched dollar for dollar by the Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation through Dec. 31, according to a news release. The Fund has provided $260 million in assistance to 27,000 service members since 2003.