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Family remembers Portland veteran who died of hypothermia Christmas Day


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    PORTLAND, Oregon (KPTV) — Henry Steele, 76, served in the Army during the Vietnam War and his family said he loved everyone, especially animals.

His niece, Christine Layton, said she’s going to miss a lot about him.

“His smile, his hugs, he was a hugger and he always kissed me on the cheek and said he loved me,” she said.

Thursday, Steele was due for a bloodwork appointment at the VA Medical Center and got a ride from TriMet LIFT to get there.

He never made it home that day. Layton said police told them Steele got onto a city bus, rather than back onto the LIFT bus. She suspects recent cancer treatment was the cause of his confusion.

So, Friday, Layton decided to look for Steele herself.

“I started from the VA down and drove the bus route to see if I could see him walking around,” she said.

After no sign of Steele, Christmas day they got the news they were dreading. Layton said police told them they found Steele’s body behind the Portland Inn on Northeast Columbia Boulevard.

“Crawled into the bushes, had cuts on his hands the coroner’s office told me the description,” Layton said. “They said it looked like he had just tried to stay warm and put a coat over him to stay warm. When we got the news this whole house was nothing but tears.”

His family hopes this encourages others to keep an eye out for those who are outside during these freezing temperatures.

“It’s heartbreaking. We all have to make the change. We have to change our thinking; we have to change how we look at people. We all deserve to be respected,” she said.

The Steele family wished the VA would have made sure Steele made it back onto the LIFT bus that day, saying his death was preventable.

FOX 12 reached out to the VA about Steele’s death. It sent this statement:

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of the Veteran who tragically passed away.

Due to privacy laws, we are unable to address or acknowledge any specific Veteran who may have received care from VA Portland Health Care System.

VA Portland Health Care System has policies and procedures in place to ensure the safety and welfare of every Veteran we serve to the best of our ability. This includes assisting Veterans under our care who may request assistance, or who are known or suspected to have cognitive, physical or other challenges that may require assistance. This is to ensure our Veterans are provided safe and reliable transportation when they depart our facilities to reach their destination. VA Portland also provides many travel solutions for Veterans to and from their VA health care facilities in support of VA-sponsored medical appointments. This program offers services at little or no cost to eligible Veterans through the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), VA Veterans Transportation Services, VA shuttle busses, and, for eligible Veterans, reimbursement through Beneficial Travel.”

Multnomah County said if you see someone out in the cold you’re concerned about, you can call their non-emergency line at 503-823-3333 for a welfare check. If they’re in immediate need – they said you should call 911. (

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