A silver dog tag hangs around the neck of the 57-year-old Air Force veteran, just in case.
Just in case he gets lost at Walmart, wanders away from his assisted-living facility or simply gets confused.
The tag lists his name and the cellphone number of his volunteer guardian, Eddie Carroll -- the only person who regularly visits him.
"Eddie is basically my only contact with the outside world," the veteran said.
Personal tragedy, alcohol abuse and a series of strokes have robbed the man of his short-term memory.
Because he no longer has any friends or relatives who are willing or suitable to look after him, a Tarrant County probate judge appointed Guardianship Services Inc., a Fort Worth-based nonprofit organization, his official guardian several years ago.
Carroll, a volunteer for the organization, was asked to help look after the man, an opportunity Carroll gladly accepted, partly because he's also a veteran.
"I happen to think he is a very neat guy," Carroll said. "His needs, wants and desires are not great. The things he likes to do, we do."
The man, who is not being identified because he is a ward, is among more than 2,400 Tarrant County residents being cared for by court-appointed guardians because they are physically or mentally incapable of making decisions about their personal, medical or financial affairs.
In most cases, Tarrant County's two probate judges appoint spouses, relatives or friends as the legal guardian, but an increasing number of people in need are on their own.
In those cases, the judges appoint Guardianship Services Inc.; the Department of Aging and Disability Services; or private, professional guardians to manage their lives and make crucial decisions.
"We are called upon to help protect people for a lot of different reasons," said Judge Steve King, who presides over Probate Court No. 1. "They may be totally functioning except they can't say 'no' to a con man or they can't say 'no' to their youngest child. They literally have to be protected from themselves." While no single agency keeps statistics on the total number of wards in Texas, state and local officials say there has been a surge in cases the past several years. Experts attribute the increase to people living longer, the prevalence of Alzheimer's and related dementia disorders, and people's reluctance to care for incapacitated loved ones.
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Volunteers Help Fill Gap as More Indigent People Require Legal Guardians