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SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2007
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Retired Army Sgt. Jimmy Coggins of Cullman.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Retired Army Sgt. Jimmy Coggins of Cullman.

Vietnam veteran gets big news from VA

By Ronnie Thomas
rthomas@decaturdaily.com · 340-2438

CULLMAN — On Thursday, Vietnam veteran Jimmy Coggins rested better than he ever has following kidney dialysis.

That’s because the day before, he felt as if he had hit the jackpot.

A representative from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs brought the good news and paperwork to Coggins at his home on Cullman County 463.

Coggins, 57, said the VA agreed to pay $50,000 to widen doors so he can enter all rooms in his wheelchair, including the bathroom.

He said doctors suspect that Agent Orange claimed both kidneys and both legs. He has been sleeping on a hospital bed in the living room, and using a portable toilet.

That isn’t all the good news from the VA. Coggins said the VA pledged $11,000 for a used 2002 van he hopes to convert so he can drive again.

“My son and I just got back from Mitch Smith Chevrolet,” Coggins said Friday afternoon. “They’ve got to do some paperwork there.”

Jesse Ramirez, a salesman for the dealership, said the VA cleared the purchase and Coggins should get the van any day.

And it gets better. Coggins has an appointment Nov. 23 in Montgomery, when the VA will see what he needs to make the van wheelchair accessible — and pay for that, too.

But Coggins and his wife, Kathie, have a decision to make before starting to re-arrange the house.

“We could build a new house if we choose,” he said. “We’d have to find the land. And we’d pay anything over $50,000. But if we only remodel, I can use what’s left over.”

He said the couple will get contractor estimates on what the cost would be to add rooms to the back.

A year in Vietnam

Coggins spent a year in Vietnam in 1972-73 with the 82nd Airborne Division, 782nd Maintenance Battalion.

Even before he retired from the Army in 1990 after a 20-year career, he developed diabetes and high blood pressure while stationed at Fort Stewart, Ga.

“Several different doctors told me that Agent Orange may be the cause of the diabetes,” he said. “When I got a physical for retirement, I got 20 percent disability. Two years ago, the VA must have agreed with all the assumptions, because I got 100 percent disability for a combat-related illness.”

On waiting list

He has been on dialysis five years, going three days a week, four hours a session. He is on a donor waiting list at The University of Alabama Hospital at Birmingham.

His son, Jamie, 25, offered his dad one of his kidneys and has already submitted blood work.

“But I’m afraid of that because he’s an only child,” Coggins said.

Doctors amputated Coggins’ right leg July 10.

He still managed to drive his pickup after he paid $3,000 of his money for a lift for an electric scooter.

“I’d ride it to the pickup, get inside and connect the straps of the lift to the scooter, and transfer it to the bed of the pickup by remote control,” he said. “When I got to where I was going, I’d put it on the ground and go about my business.”

The driving stopped after Nov. 1, the day doctors took his left leg.

Coggins said in a an interview with The Daily a week ago he felt the VA was stonewalling because he applied in August 2006 for home improvements and that December for a vehicle.

“A year is too long to wait in a situation like this,” he said, with Old Glory flying in his yard. “But I’ll always be a patriot no matter what. I’d stand up right now and salute that flag, if I could. And if they called me up, I’d go.”

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