'NCIS' Season 17 Episode 4 'Someone Else's Shoes' puts spotlight on homeless veterans, VA's funding and overworked medical staff

This is not the first time NCIS has highlighted the plight of homeless veterans. Season 15 Episode 21 'One Step Forward' dealt with vulnerable veteran Sara Carter while Episode 19 'Reasonable Doubts' in Season 13 featured the homeless veteran, Susan, suffering from dementia and malnutrition

                            'NCIS' Season 17 Episode 4 'Someone Else's Shoes' puts spotlight on homeless veterans, VA's funding and overworked medical staff

Leon Vance (Rocky Carroll) obviously believes in both the carrot and the stick. Just last week he got Jacqueline "Jack" Sloane (Maria Bello) to provide counseling to the NCIS team after Ziva's (Cote de Pablo) abrupt departure because he was worried about "team morale".

This week finds Tim McGee (Sean Murray), Ellie Bishop (Emily Wickersham) and Nick Torres (Wilmer Valderrama) banished to the evidence garage for six days for hiding information about Ziva's return. Assigned the mind-numbingly boring work of organizing evidence, without their cellphones, Bishop complains about the "cruel and unusual punishment". 

Leroy Gibbs (Mark Harmon) is like a knight in shining armor as he gets them out to look into a gruesome case of the "riderless horse" in the Arlington National Cemetry.  Well, almost riderless. The boots left on in its stirrups have severed human feet with deep, diabetic sores.

The incident seems to be a message since a riderless horse carrying empty boots is a military symbol honoring the dead. When the video of the incident goes viral with "1.2 million likes", the pressure is on the team to solve the case.

The feet belong to a homeless veteran Marine Sgt. David Holtzman, who was honorably discharged in 1979. He is the first victim in the string of fatal attacks on homeless veterans by the "Military Mutilator", that highlights the vulnerability of the vets who slip through the cracks and the ones whom the system has failed. 

The clues eventually lead to the killer, Kyle Freeman (Brent Bailey), a volunteer with Mercy Point Mobile Care, providing healthcare to the homeless vets. He also runs a private company that caters to these veterans -- a company that is directly benefited when the government hurriedly releases the funding for veterans, thanks to the publicity around the attacks.  

The case is an intriguing one and uses the 'NCIS' platform to focus attention on the real-world problems of homeless veterans, underfunded VA departments and overworked medical staff who are too stretched for resources to adequately care for the veterans who come to them seeking help.

In the heartwarming ending, we also find out Vance got Gibbs to distribute the prepaid, "ready-to-use" phones (that Gibbs and Ziva stole in the premiere episode) to the veterans at the camp so that it would be easier for them to access VA benefits. 

Final Salute Inc., that works with homeless women veterans, left a video message on their Facebook page saying: "Thank you again to 'NCIS' for raising awareness to the rising numbers of homeless women veterans and highlighting our efforts to fight this growing epidemic!" The organization was previously featured on 'NCIS' Season 15 Episode 21 'One Step Forward' that also dealt with a vulnerable veteran, Sara Carter (Skye P. Marshall).

Fans of the show took to Twitter to appreciate the depiction of the overworked and sleep-deprived Dr. Erica Bell at the VA (Veterans Affairs) center, who tries to do her best to serve the veterans, despite stretched funds and resources. @RachelAnn51113 tweeted: "Thank you to #NCIS for a fantastic and realistic representation of VA physician[s] and the problems they face," While @Sylviassister pointed out: "The doctor at the VA Center - overworked and probably underpaid. Veterans deserve better."

Other tweets appreciated the 'NCIS' episode for bringing attention to the funding of programs for veterans run by VA. @RoxRolls remarked: "TY for bringing poignant attention to the plight of #HomelessVets and funding for veterans’ programs. Loved the nod to both Gibbs’ and Jack’s service stories." @BruhManInSoCal commented on how profound the episode was for dealing with the killing of homeless veterans "for profit" and the "underfunding of the Veterans Administration".

This is not the first time NCIS has taken up the plight of homeless veterans. Besides the previously mentioned 'One Step Forward' episode, there was also Episode 19 'Reasonable Doubts' in Season 13 that featured the homeless veteran, Susan (Melora Walters), who was suffering from dementia and malnutrition.

Sean Murray, whose father was a captain in the U.S. Navy and who plays Tim McGee on the show, has previously spoken about "giving back to the veterans who have given so much to the country" and has mentioned that cast members regularly interact with veterans because of the show's premise. Both he and Mark Harmon, who portrays Leroy Gibbs, have worked with organizations geared to helping veterans. 

'NCIS' airs Tuesday at 8 p.m. on CBS.

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