VA Games Aren’t New

The life of Junius Kellogg often reminds me of a safe with many doors, doors within doors, with each door having its own combination. The term his friend Bob Otten often used was that Junius’ life was “compartmentalized.” For example, Bob Otten never learned that Junius got married until long after the fact. Men and women who were lesser friends were invited!

On the other hand, in later years Junius revealed to Bob that he had a son. Junius was paralyzed in an accident in April 1954. He was paralyzed from his shoulders down with only limited strength in his arms and hands. He was a great wheelchair basketball coach, but he could not have played the game. In short, given the technology of the day he could not have fathered a biological child. Bob met Leon, the young man Junius fathered. It’s a whole other story I cover in the book.

The VA Connection

Many people who believe they know Junius Kellogg’s basketball scandal story back and forth, do not understand the depth of his advocacy toward men and women with spinal injuries. I would argue that his greatest depth of devotion and brotherhood were toward veterans who languished in the VA system.

As I write these posts on Junius’ life and reveal the little compartments, it is amazing how many interests he had and how much work he often did on behalf of those he deemed were worse off than he was. In terms of spinal injuries, we often wonder where his passion came from, what caused him to champion the causes of veterans with paralysis?

When Junius was involved in his near, life-ending accident, he was taken to the Little Rock, Arkansas VA facility for rehabilitation. While they helped him, he also helped them. The hospital directors knew he still had “star power.” They wanted to look good and tout their abilities. They turned him into a prop, and he deeply resented it.

The picture I’ve featured here was totally posed. Circling back to an earlier point, he had no feeling below the shoulders. They posed him standing in this picture and even intimated that he could “walk,” that he was able to take a few steps. It was a patent lie. Perhaps his advocacy started to spring from that. He saw what it was like to be used and to be PR grist rather than the VA providing meaningful programs and access for those with spinal injuries.

To the present day, many in wheelchairs are still tolerated and not celebrated. It was what Junius believed then, it is what Bob Otten and I believe now.

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