Long before those who enlisted in the US Armed Forces could serve openly and long before ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ was even heard of LeRoy Kloss was serving proudly in the US Marines. It was a different time back then, you could be dishonorably discharged from the military just for being gay and living your truth. The threat of a dishonorable discharge did not seem to bother LeRoy, he served his country from June 1983 to October 1991, “A friend and I joined on the ‘buddy program,’ I was tired of go no-where jobs,” he told me, “so I thought why not?” I had honestly no idea what I was getting myself into.” LeRoy was just 23 years old. I brought up the fact that he must not have hated it since he served for so long, “It turned out to be the best thing I ever did for myself. Beyond a steady paycheck I learned something valuable, something I didn’t have going in, self discipline.”
So many men and women who were LGBT at that time served with the fear and anxiety of being drummed out of the military, it was a fear that LeRoy didn’t share. “I didn’t flaunt my sexuality, there was a lot of ‘closet space,’ some people knew, but as long as I wasn’t flaunting it I was left alone. Looking back I never had that fear. It’s surprising, even to me.” LeRoy had long term plans to stay a Marine, but as fate would have it wasn’t his sexuality that forced him out of the military.
“It’s every Marines dream to be a drill instructor, it’s the ultimate head trip, make more Marines.” he told me when I asked him what his long term plans were if he would have stayed in. “I turned down the Warrant Officer Program and Officer Candidate School because I wanted to be a drill instructor first.” LeRoy failed a routine physical for Drill Instructor School, he found out that he had a bad heart, his valves were failing and needed replaced, he was only 28 years old. LeRoy was barred from combat and wasn’t deployed to Operation Desert Storm because he was on medical hold. The US military takes care of their soldiers, LeRoy was treated by the best doctors at Bethesda, Walter Reed, and The National Institutes of Health. When it came to staying in the Marines he held out for as long as he could, “Even though I wasn’t supposed to, I ran everyday day,” but a medical discharge was inevitable and then the reality of VA doctors began to set in. “When it was decided that I needed surgery the first time, they wanted to wait six months, even though my valves were failing.” Two weeks later he was finally allowed to be admitted to Northwestern where he was told he wouldn’t live 6 months. “When I went for surgery I was barely strong enough to walk into the hospital, I literally got thru the door and collapsed into a wheelchair.” At only 37 years old, LeRoy had two open heart surgeries. The day after he had his valve replacement LeRoy had an aortic aneurysm.
After surgery and recovery the reality of the situation sank in, the Marines was LeRoy’s home and his life, now that was all gone, “Not knowing what I was going to do to support myself was kind of scary, I did nothing for a year after I got out.” But they say once a Marine always a Marine and even though LeRoy didn’t wear the uniform anymore he moved passed his grief, he managed to pull himself up by his boot straps, he found the strength to not only heal but move on with his life. LeRoy found a niche and for the last 23 years has been working as a conductor for South Shore Freight Railroad.
In August of 2018 LeRoy found out that once again his heart valves were failing and he was no longer able to work. Surgery has to be delayed due to stents being placed into his heart to unblock his left anterior descending artery. Because of that surgery LeRoy has to be placed on blood thinners for six months, then off of them for two weeks before they can operate. The insurance LeRoy gets through his employer will cover his medical expenses but since he’s not able to work he’s exhausted his entire savings. Sick pay from his job ran out on April 29th and he’s recently had his truck repossessed. LeRoy has a medical discharge and a disability rating from the Marines and he is eligible for a temporary change in status so he can collect disability pay to help with his living expenses, but the VA botched his claim for a benefit increase and the doctor evaluating his situation has yet to submit her paperwork. He’s even called the White House VA hotline, but still he cannot get the help he needs. Not knowing where to go from here LeRoy swallowed his pride and asked for help with a GoFundMe Page. LeRoy Kloss is a veteran with a very serious heart condition and he’s about to get his utilities shut off because of a lack of support and as well as what some people might say is incompetence by the Veteran’s Administration. LeRoy isn’t the only veteran that this country has failed to look after and protect.
LeRoy has been getting a lot of attention lately from close friends and a the tight LGBTQ community in Michigan City and Northwest Indiana, yet he hopes that his struggles will bring attention to others, “I’ll take all the exposure this thing can get, not just for me, but for other veterans having issues.” When asked knowing what he knows about how hard it’s been for him to get proper health care coupled with all bureaucracy and ‘red tape’ that goes along with the VA, would he put on the uniform of a Marine all over again, “yes I’d do it again and I’d recommend it for anyone who needs direction or goals in life.”
Please join local entertainers Welcome to the Other Side as they host a benefit in LeRoy’s honor Saturday May 11, 2019 at Mugshots Lounge 1901 S Woodland Ave, Michigan City, IN 46360. The Doors open for this 21 and over show at 8pm show starts at 10 pm. There will also be a silent auction and all proceeds go to help KeRoy Kloss. Cover is $12 at the door.