Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Full Delivery of Promised Lifetime Medical Care for Veterans Would Bring In More Volunteers For The Military

There is a severe shortage of volunteers for military service in the United States Armed Forces, we all know this.

I think it may be true that many of America’s active military personnel are averaging more time in combat areas than ever before in the history of our nation. I read one time that a big problem for Vietnam Veterans is that they spent 12 to 18 months at a time in combat areas, but the average World War Two vet spent three months out of each year in combat. I read that, but have no way to back it up. I am surmising in saying that today’s combat vets are in for the ‘longest hauls’ in American history.

Many of today’s combat veterans have no one to replace them on the battlefields after their pre-designated tour of duty there is over, consequently they go back into combat again. And again, and again, and again, and so on.

If the United States Government were to finally begin delivering on the full health care benefits promised to all veterans, than there would be more volunteers joining the military, and more volunteers for combat areas.

The blog post appearing below this one deals in great detail with the lack of promised medical care for veterans.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Decline Of Too Many Health Care Services For America's Military Veterans

Here are three previously published articles that I wrote about the decline of health care services for America's military veterans. These articles were widely read, world wide, by many other people who share my concerns about these issues.

The first article is about the VAMC where I receive my primary medical care. It is the first to go to condos and commercial property. The groundbreaking ceremony for it was in November 2006.

More and more vets are in need of VA health care every day. Some are recent war vets and others are old vets. Very few of them are going to receive all that they earned and were promised for their sacrifices during their service to the United States of America.

Fort Howard, Maryland Veterans Administration Medical Center

By D. R. Crews

(first published March 16, 2006)

This concerns all of America’s Military Veterans, though it is about a Maryland Veterans Administration facility.

The Ft. Howard Veterans Administration Medical Center property in Baltimore County Maryland is the last clean, open waterfront property in the Baltimore area that is not developed to the hilt. That is about to change. The property is about to become home to many residents when a housing project, named Bayside at Ft. Howard, is to be built there where people can rent living space in a continuing care senior housing community. The future residents of Bayside will not be required to have served in the United States military to qualify to be eligible to rent there. It is not going to be a veterans facility. It is a “mixed use” project, with veterans given preferences on placement in rental units and some discount on their rent. Those residents are going to need substantial incomes or savings to be able to afford to live there.

The only VA medical facility that is planed for the Bayside project will be a new, small VA outpatient medical clinic that will be built somewhere on the property. The plans also call for a VA nursing home to be erected within the next ten years at Bayside.

In the 1980s, I was a patient at the Ft. Howard Veterans Hospital. I spent two separate months in the hospital there, when my degenerative back disease became so painful that I could not take care of myself. I was temporarily confined to a wheel chair for much of that time. That VA facility specialized in taking care of vets who needed physical rehabilitation and/or long term care.

Sometimes I used to wheel out in my chair to look out over the waters of the Patapsco River and the Chesapeake Bay. The view from there is really nice, and the sunsets can be gorgeous. I sat there one time and positioned my head so that I could see the Key Bridge out of the corner of my right eye and the Bay Bridge out of the corner of my left eye. I did that just so I could tell people how great the view is.

Though I was fairly well crippled up and incapable of defending myself against any criminals at the time, I felt no fear while sitting out there all alone, not even when the sun was setting across the water and it got dark. Ft. Howard VAMC is out on a peninsula and is surrounded on its land sides by a tall fence. The VA has its own police force there. Crime is virtually nonexistent on the Ft. Howard VA grounds.

The VA hospital there has been closed now since 2001. There is only a small VA medical clinic operating in a small modern building behind the old hospital building there now.

There are huge, solid, wooden, beautiful, empty houses in Ft. Howard that are worth a fortune. They were Army officer’s homes in the early 1900s, when the place was an Army fort. There are other neat, old, unused World War One Era Army buildings there in various states of decay. There is beautiful, spacious open ground all around there.

I went to a public meeting about this project that was held at Sparrows Point High School. The developers and others involved in the project gave a presentation of the plans and took questions from the audience. The most important question, to me, was when a 100% service connected disabled combat veteran asked if he would be able to afford the rent at Bayside. The answer was that the rent structures hadn’t been established yet.

Who else deserves to live there more than a vet who receives maximum service connected disability checks each month from the VA. They should have been guaranteed a fair rent price from the very conception of this project and given first choice on anything that they want there.

The way I understand the property plans so far is that there will be independent living, assisted living and nursing care facilities. As a person gets older and more infirm they can move a short distance to receive more care from the staff there. Except for the independent living, this would sound fine to me if it was only veterans receiving the care and benefits of the community. But, how did them other folks get included in the deal?

The other folks’ rent money is supposed to be necessary for this project to be successful. Part of the profit money from the rents there is promised to be reinvested into the entire VA medical service. This way the government doesn’t have to pay for some of the medical benefits promised to all veterans.

This project is also a test to see if this theory about mixed use facilities with civilian cash inflow, that supposedly supports VA medical needs, will be successful. If it is declared to be a success, then other VA properties around the country will be developed as mixed use vet and non-vet residential communities. It will be declared a success, because the powers that be want the best for themselves.

This is all about prime real estate currently being used by low to moderate income vets for medical facilities or nursing homes. The affluent want to live on that prime VA real estate now and the most affluent want to make big bucks off of the deal.

You can bet your bottom dollar that they won’t be developing any VA properties into housing projects in less desirable areas where real estate prices are low.

Even if they just allowed vets along with their spouses, children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, friends and/or live in lovers to move into the community, there are far too many problems that come with allowing non-VA Patients or Staff to move in on VA Property.

The VA police force will not remain at Ft. Howard. How can they? They can’t enforce all VA rules against people who have civilian rights in their homes. The VA cops aren’t equipped to handle domestic arguments or other family problems. They have no jail cells. Other police agencies have to be called in to give them backup in any overwhelming, bad situation.

Who is going to provide emergency medical service?

Retirement communities receive a lot of EMS service. Can you imagine a person quietly waiting for a local county EMS team to arrive when their non-veteran loved one is dying just outside the door of a VA medical clinic?

Adding to these problems of providing any emergency services to Bayside at Ft. Howard, is that everything is exacerbated by the VA property’s location out on the end of a peninsula and at the end of a long, two lane road. That somewhat isolated property is about six miles from the closest fire house and down in where there is currently a minute number of county police patrols. The nearest hospital emergency room is many miles away and you have to drive through all kinds of traffic problems to get there.

The ingress and egress routes for Ft. Howard are very limited. They can not handle much more traffic than they do now. There are really only two routes: the first four miles of both routes are the same then one zigzags through heavily populated neighborhoods and the other goes by two schools. A third is available, but it is on state park land where the last strip of peaceful woods goes through Edgemere. Due to the particular layout of these routes, a vehicular accident or emergency road work on one of them could seriously plug up traffic for quite awhile.

When the VA hospital was in operation at Ft. Howard, the heavy vehicular traffic flow in and out of there was at the same times everyday when VA staff changed shifts. Traffic was predictable and therefore more manageable by the police and more tolerable by the residents of the areas that it flowed through.

The future traffic patterns of Bayside are unpredictable, but they will become heavy and intolerable. Changes will be made to the routes in and out of Ft. Howard that will be ignorantly intrusive and unjustifiably aggravating to current residents of the area.

Senior citizen residents of Bayside will sometimes still work full time jobs, often have part time jobs, do volunteer work at various places, take rides just to get out of the house, go to social events, attend sports games and have visitors at all times of the day and night. They have earned the right to live their own lives as best they can, but that won’t ease the strain that they will be placing on those limited roadways of that area.

Residents of Bayside will have family and friends staying with them at times. Sometimes the visitors will be there to visit for a short time on a regular basis, others will be spending their last and only chance to be with the elderly resident that they dearly love. Some will be in desperate need of a place to live and will take advantage of the elderly person. Some visitors will stay longer than a guest should. Some will move in. These individuals may even go to work everyday from there.

At the Sparrows Point High School meeting one Edgemere resident inquired if the road in front of their home of many years would have to be widened because it is on the main route to the VA property. The resident was told that this would not happen.

If the traffic gets too bad, the road will be widened so vehicles traveling through the area can pass vehicles slowing down to enter the school driveways, homes or businesses along there. There is hardly room for pedestrians to walk beside it now, including young students on their way to and from school.

That bad curve and weird intersection at Lodge Forest Drive and Old North Point Road will probably become known as Demolition Derby Curve. Or worse—Blood and Guts Curve.

Think about that!

Another aspect of overloaded infrastructure brought up at the high school meeting was about whether the water and sewer systems can handle the added expectations that will be put on them by Bayside. The electric and phone lines may be stressed past capacity too. I doubt that the infrastructure down there is designed for this much extra pressure on it.

Who’s tax money will pay for infrastructure repairs and upgrades? Beings that the Bayside housing project will be built on federally owned lands, will they pay property and other taxes, that support local infrastructure, like everyone else around there?

The well-to-do Bayside residents will have the time, know how and political influence to get what they want at the expense of Ft. Howard-Edgemere area property owners.

The new VA medical clinic has been proposed to be built on a small piece of wooded property that is snuggled into Ft. Howard County Park, which adjoins the VA property. That spit of VA land has frontage on the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. It was called the stump dump, by VA employees, because its only use through the past many decades has been to be the place where all organic, natural waste from old trees and bushes on the VAMC grounds was placed to rot where it would not bother anyone. The federal government kept that little piece of property for the VA’s use when it turned over a big chunk of land for that county park from the VA property because that big chunk of land has massive old Army fortifications on it and the land was not being used, so the best idea was to make it a great park.

That park makes the VAMC grounds even more attractive to people willing and able to pay high rent prices.

That little spit of land formerly known as the stump dump is slated for some kind of housing development if the clinic doesn’t go there. If anything is built there it is going to be a real loss to the park next door. That piece of land helps make a continuous, wooded wildlife habitat from the Chesapeake Bay out to Old N. Point Rd.. Any construction there will be a knife in the park’s natural side.

Then there is the headache of access to that little spit of land. The park’s only access road has to be used to get to the place. The county will want to know who is going to plow the park road when it snows, and who is going to pay for the extra wear and tear on the road. That road is well maintained, smooth, narrow and laced with speed bumps. It has a gate that is closed and locked at night and during the fall and winter months. How will the Bayside and park officials work that out?

The Bayside project’s plans call for a marina with floating piers to be built onto the main piece of VA property about where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Patapsco River. The new piers will be for the Bayside residents to dock their personal water craft at. That area is one obviously unprotected harbor.

We vets used to have a fairly new, solidly structured VA patient’s fishing pier built on pilings near the place that the new pier will go. A storm tore up our fishing pier on pilings, so the new one to be built for Bayside will be a floater that gives in somewhat to the poundings of the wind and waves. It was not a full blown hurricane that wiped out the fishing pier, and any storm on the Bay pushes a lot of water up against Ft. Howard’s shore line. Who is going to be responsible when a bad storm damages those new piers and the boats tied up to it? Could that money be better spent on VA medical care?

It would break my heart if the former Army parade grounds in the center of the VA property was built upon and the huge, old trees there all cut down. It really makes for a great open space that allows the place to ‘breath’ better. It is planned to be maintained as a park like open recreation area.

I don’t know who is going to get the lumber from the old trees there that may have to be cut down, but I bet there’s some fine wood in those trees.Due to historic preservation, many of the existing Ft. Howard VA buildings will not be torn down to make way for new condominiums and other proposed new structures.

I agree with some of the proposed preservation but not all of it.

Those early 1900’s former officer’s homes must stay. They are going to cost a lot to renovate because of the lead paint and asbestos issues and the fact that they were built by old time craftsmen, with hand tools, using types of wood and fixtures that may be quite expensive on today’s market and possibly unavailable anymore. But the experts in that type of renovation know how to deal with that. The houses are worth it.

Those houses are in the proposed plans as being renovated and rented out. Man O’ Day, they will make for some wealthy individuals’ superb waterfront homes.

Those former officer’s houses were and should be used again for Ft. Howard VA medical and administrative employees to rent and live in. That would be a great way to draw top notch people to work at a new hospital, an assisted living community and a nursing home all for veterans only. It would aid in employee job satisfaction, work attendance and employee longevity. It’s a crying shame to loose that leverage for better health care for veterans.

Except for the ancient movie theater, I have no idea what other buildings can be saved and reused sensibly. That theater will be saved and used for the new community and that is as it should be. The other buildings are neat looking and sometimes unique, but I don’t know enough about their state of deterioration, cost of renovation and the needs of the community to make a decision about them.

The hospital building is almost a half-century younger than the other buildings there. It is not the same type architecture as the others. It is cool looking and has some great features inside and out, but it is obsolete as a hospital. It has been declared to be too historically important to be torn down and is in the plans for reuse.

Sometimes modern medical necessity must override all other considerations. The hospital should be torn down.

The large main hospital building has been connected to other buildings beside it and that forms a mishmash of a complex. That whole complex should be torn down to the ground and a fine, new, state of the art hospital built there that is geared towards physical rehabilitation and long term patients. There is just the right amount of space in that spot to do a fantastic job of providing us vets with some of the medical care that we were promised when we enlisted into the American Military.

The idea of building an up to date hospital at Ft. Howard is supported by the little known fact that VAMCs are a back up hospital system for the active military in case heavy war casualties or other disasters overwhelm our military hospitals. As soon as a military person is discharged from the military with a service connected disability, usually war wounds, their medical needs are taken care of by Veterans Administration medical facilities. Most VA hospitals are fairly well full all the time, and outpatients there often have a long wait for doctor’s appointments. The government is not allowing for what it says it should be.

There are many vets aging all the time. Many World War Two Vets are becoming in need of hospital care, assisted living and nursing homes everyday. Korean War Vets are well up in age too, then there are the Cold War Vets to consider. Us baby boomer Vietnam Era Vets are about to hit them assisted living communities like a flash flood. All of the peacetime veterans earned the same benefits. Now we have a new group of recent and future war time veterans in dire need of good medical service. All of these numbers are being compounded by the recent rip-offs of retirement funds and earned lifetime health care benefits that is devastating American workers’ lives all over this country.

We need more space in Veterans Administration medical centers and more and better equipment and supplies and more and better paid staff employed in them. We need these improvements today. We will need more tomorrow.

Not everyone knows the unique benefits of being a patient in a VAMC. The TVs are free to view and there are usually enough of them in all patient areas. There is often a lending library in each VA hospital for the patients to borrow reading materials from, and there are most always donated used books along with used and new magazines placed throughout the hospital for the patients to have. Donated new crafts items like plastic car model kits or wooden boat kits are given out to patients. There are often crafts shops in VA hospitals where patients can spend hours doing leather works, ceramics, etc.. There is usually a small retail store in VA hospitals that sell items at a discount and no sales tax is charged. There are numerous social activities for patients held at VA hospitals. The VA staff hold little patient carnivals, picnics etc., and Veterans Service Organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America, Navy Gold Star Mothers help out at those events or sponsor their own at the hospitals. Service organizations sponsor nightly patient activities like free bingo games, musical shows and movies. They also do group VA hospital visits around the holidays and bring small gifts to the patients. All Veterans Service Organizations contribute in some way to their hospitalized comrade’s well being.

The Ft. Howard neighborhood that lies at the gate to the VAMC grounds is a tiny community. It has waterfront property on two sides, the VAMC is on the third side and the road out of there is the fourth side. Many of the residents there have lived in their homes for most of their lives. They are basically middle class blue collar families. The property values and taxes on their homes will go up as Bayside is developed.

The lives of the resident families in that neighborhood will be rudely interrupted for the next five to ten years as the Bayside community is developed. The construction traffic in and out of there will be something that they have never had to endure before. The heavy trucks, cranes and other large vehicles necessary for such a building project will shake them Ft. Howard’s resident’s homes to the point of possible structural damage. The construction worker’s vehicles will be in and out of there all day long. The dirt will be flying everywhere in Ft. Howard. Those two routes that go in and out of Ft. Howard will be jammed up on a regular basis by the addition of Bayside construction vehicles.

I can guarantee you that if the project was a medical, assisted living and geriatric nursing center for veterans only then this would all be much more tolerable to the residents of Ft. Howard and all of the other older communities that lay along the roads in and out of Bayside.

One day in 2004, I was down in Ft. Howard VAMC on a doctor’s appointment. I had taken my camera with me and after my appointment I photographed some of the old buildings there. While photographing, I struck up a conversation with two mature women who were there taking a daily walk on the VA grounds. They were life-long residents of the Ft. Howard neighborhood and former VA employees. They told me all about how they had tried to talk sense to the Bayside developers, at public meetings about Bayside, but those developers didn’t want to hear anything that the neighborhood residents have to say about the looming, drastic changes coming to Ft. Howard. Those two women agreed wholeheartedly with me when I explained to them some of this whole point of view of mine, about Bayside, that I am writing about here.

Many of the new residents at Bayside will be college graduates. College graduates average a higher lifetime income than non-grads. Most veterans have not graduated from college.

During the time that I served in the military, many young American men attended college and did what ever they had to do to stay enrolled there, because the military could not draft them if they maintained enough college credit classes to be a full time student. A former neighbor of mine once told me that he spent six years in college to get a four year degree just so that he could beat the draft. Many of the people who will be able to afford the prime waterfront real estate rent prices at Bayview and move in there will be college grads who received draft deferments long enough at the right time to avoid serving in the U.S Military or going to Vietnam.

Any outright draft dodgers will be able to rent nice waterfront residences at Bayside. Those who finagled illegal or unfair deferments will be able to live there. If they moved to Canada during the Vietnam War, they are welcome at Bayside.

Who is going to maintain the waiting list for rental units in Bayside at Ft. Howard? Who will assure us that all veterans who want and can afford to live at Bayside will be treated fairly on the waiting list to move in there.

I am on the waiting list. I can’t afford to live there right now, but if I have the income and inclination in the future, I may add to the percentage of deserving veterans living at Bayside. If ya’ can’t beat ‘um, join ‘um!

I know I’m late in decimating this information. In my defense I have to say that I have personal disabilities to deal with and a tiny fixed income to try to survive on.

By the time that the public was informed of the Bayside plans, it was probably too late to stop this project from letting non-VA patients in. But, we may be able to change some of the plans for the Ft. Howard site to give vets in need of medical care more VAMC facilities at Bayside.

The developers should shoulder the cost of changing the Bayside plans. Unfortunately, they are most likely too hyped up on the projected profits, that they have been scheming about and drooling over for years, to take only what they may deserve. If they were truly grateful for the freedoms that we veterans have fought for and preserved for them, they never would have agreed to build condominiums for non-vets where vets should be receiving medical care.

As for the wealthy politicians who OK’d this Bayside project, as it is planned today, I guess I made a mistake when I voted for certain ones of you.It isn’t too late to stop more prime Veterans Administration real estate from being taken from us. That is the next step in the VA’s plan.

This is all boils down to one thing and one thing only—the Ft. Howard Veterans Administration Medical Center property is too valuable and beautiful to waste on low to moderate income vets like myself.

Eighteen More Veterans Administration Medical Centers Are Under The Ax

By D. R. Crews

(first published Mar 27, 2006)

Ft. Howard Maryland Veterans Administration Medical Center is the first VA property that will be turned into a veteran and non-veteran independent, assisted living and geriatric care housing project. Eighteen more VAMCs are targeted for the same drastic changes. If you are an American military veteran, or someone who cares about veterans issues, and one of these VAMCs, on the list that follows later in this article, is not near your home, is not your or your loved one’s source of medical care, it is still important for you to be aware of what is happening. Your VAMC could be next.

In my previous article about Ft. Howard VAMC, that is published here in Magic City News under D.R.Crews, I laid out the facts, as I and some other American citizens see them, about Ft. Howard and other Veterans Administration Medical Center properties that the VA has decided to turn into housing developments for veterans and non-vets. Property that would be better used for much needed new VA medical facilities. But the federal government will not give the VA enough funding so that they can replace their old obsolete hospitals.

In recent years, the VAMC system has been transitioning from inpatient care based services to outpatient care, as most hospitals have. I understand that this is a well thought out, planned and implemented change. How much the lack of sufficient, congressional VAMC funding affected the train of thoughts of the decision makers, who set those changes into motion, is your guess as good as mine.

My big beef about this transition is, our VA outpatient care could be provided to us veterans just as well in revamped VAMCs on spacious, peaceful, beautiful grounds as it can be in a crowded, dirty, definitely more dangerous downtown environment like where the Baltimore VA Hospital is. Also, we veterans should still have plenty of access to quality inpatient care, when we absolutely need it.

The Vietnam Veterans of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and other Veterans Service Organizations are constantly working and fighting for more VA funding. Many times, I have read reports of their frustrated attempts to procure Congressional approval for dispersion of more tax dollars to the VA. Money that some tax payers agree should go to the VA instead of to the pork barrel type projects that bring in more votes for the incumbent politicians.

Sometime back in the 1990s, the VA decided to start a process of determining which prime VA real estate locations could be leased out to housing developers, supposedly, so that the VA could attain more funding for VA medical use while making the transition from inpatient to outpatient care based services. The first VA property to be leased out is Ft. Howard Maryland VAMC. That lease is probably already signed.

It would have been signed a month ago, but the property developers, who are going to take over Ft. Howard, sent in a plan for over a thousand living units and Senator Barbara Mikulski sent it back to them and told them to stick to the three hundred unit limit that had been agreed upon earlier. At least that’s what I heard from another concerned veteran who responded to my first VAMC article.

Other local vets and several long time Ft. Howard area residents, whom I talked to recently, expressed their feelings to me that they are in agreement with my take on things. They also said that they had been hearing rumors for decades that land developers were after Ft. Howard to lease it from the government in order to build expensive homes that have wonderful views of both the Chesapeake Bay and the entrance to the Port of Baltimore.

This raises at least two questions:

What came first, the developer’s efforts to influence politicians, VA and other U.S. Government officials to lease them beautiful Ft. Howard, or did the VA make a sound medical business decision to lease out property because of their lack of fair funding to upgrade those properties to modern medical standards?

Did the VA then ponder the facts and realize that prime properties with beautiful views would have to be sacrificed for better VA health care? Even though those beautiful views are from nicely landscaped, well maintained hospital grounds that VA patients, their visitors and the VA staff working there make good use of to help relieve the stress of dealing with often life threatening medical conditions.

I have a sickening feeling that a small group of individuals were successful in making a concerted effort to have available federal tax dollars withheld from veterans health care funding in order to force the decision to lease my earned benefits out from under me.

Some other responders to my article informed me of the VA’s progress in their efforts to lease out more real estate to property developers.

If you web search the word CARES, you will find the VA’s web site that tells the government’s side of this story. It has info on all eighteen VAMCs that are being ‘studied’ for possible “realignment”. I say ‘studied’, but I think it is a done deal for taking great VA real estate for high priced housing that may mostly profit seemingly conniving, maybe even government official bribing, super wealthy land developers who may end up grandiosely throwing only teeny, tiny percentages of their profits towards the VAMC health care system like kings and queens pitching pennies to beggars. I am not alone in thinking these thoughts.

Then will Congress say to the VA and veterans health care advocates, “You get less tax dollars from us for the VA budget this year, because you have all of that lease money from them housing projects of yours to work with!”

What if this prediction of a significantly higher percentage of housing project profits going to the developers does come true? And Congress cuts VA funding too far below what their previous funding was, and then the tax dollars and those lease dollars combined equal a much worse VA budget short fall than usual?

Will Congress then say to the VA, “It’s not our fought that you have less money in your budget this year, that leasing deal foul-up is your mistake, so live with it!”

Here is a list of the eighteen Veterans Administration Medical Centers that are under the ax:

Big Spring, TX
Boston, MA
Brooklyn-Manhattan, NY
Canandaiga, NY
Gulfport, MS
Lexington. KY
Livermore, CA
Louisville, KY
Montgomery, AL
Montrose/Castle Point, NY
Muskogee, OK
Perry Point, MD
Poplar Bluff, MO
St. Albans, NY
Waco, TX
Walla Walla, WA
West Los Angeles, CA
White City, OR

Stick with me now, this article details in depth what will be a long, hard fight for us veterans and our supporters, and why. I have to address as many points of debate about this issue, that I and others who have communicated with me about it, can think of. We need to be as fully prepared as we can be to fight the government and the land developers, who are highly skilled at imposing their public meeting spoken and official report written rhetoric upon us.

The CARES web site has information on and links to documented public meetings, proposals, community input, plans, etc. for each VAMC. Of coarse, it is the government’s version of some things that are relevant to the issues surrounding these upcoming changes.

I didn’t look too far into any one document that is on the web site, but I never saw anything about if anyone was hootin’ and hollerin’ at any of the public meetings in outright opposition to having high priced condominiums where the vets should have new modern medical facilities built for them. Built in accordance with the promise of lifetime access to good VA medical care. A written promise that we vets all received, when we signed on the dotted line then raised our right hands and swore to defend our country, democracy and families with our lives and the lives of our enemies, whom we were soon to be ready, willing and able to kill.

One day, when I was in the Ft. Howard VAMC, a group of us patients were discussing inadequacies in the VA health care system. A sympathetic VA employee was listening to us and came over to our table and, with a heart full of soul, said that it really wasn’t us military service survivors who paid for our veterans benefits, it was our comrades in arms who died while on duty in the service who paid for them. The employee said that our fellow service personnel loved us as much as we loved them, and they all knew that we were all taking the same chances. They had willed us vets our rights to reasonably good VA health care, that are often denied us. We VA patients all heartily agreed with that VA employee.

A lady from the Livermore, California area sent me this email:

It seems that VA has a lot of prime property, the VA hospital here in Livermore is outside of town nettled in the hills where the Veterans can see Deer Wild Turkeys and other critters it’s absolutely beautiful, peaceful and quiet. It too is on the chopping block to be sold and is going to not only take away property that the veterans love but will be a big inconvenience to families. (end of email)

I would like to hear from other people who live near and make good use of these eighteen VAMCs on the list above. I want to know what the fluctuations in property values in those areas has been like lately. Are the VAMCs in nice areas? Is there other developing going on around them? Are they obsolete as medical facilities? Could they be rebuilt with fair funding? Are they fully used or underused?

Some VAMCs may not be worth keeping as they are. No doubt about it.

But who will make the decisions on what to keep and what to change? Will it be possibly bribed or other wise similarly influenced government officials? Will bullied and befuddled ordinary citizens, who are not schooled in public debate or legal battles, fare well against wealthy, heartless acting land developers and their government lackeys and/or other co-conspirators who have extensive public debating and legal experience?

If you web search “Bayside at Ft. Howard” you will find the new web site that touts the proposed amenities of their upcoming VAMC housing development.

On the Bayside web site’s location page, there are two maps and one aerial photograph of the Ft. Howard area. These will help you to understand the upcoming traffic and infrastructure problems that are particular to this project, which are defined nearly in full in my Ft. Howard VAMC article. If you live near one of the eighteen VAMCs on the list printed above, it will help you to determine the extent, depth and breadth of possible problems that you will have to endure when the developing begins in your neighborhood. It may influence you to heed this warning that old, established Ft. Howard area neighborhoods residents’ rights are going to be run over rough shod by the land developers and that you may be next for the same lousy treatment.

I don’t know how much all of this baring of the facts will do. It at least leaves a true historical record of the opposition to these afore mentioned changes that many, many people think the same about as I do.

About all that I can do, at this point in my life, about these VAMC changes, is to inform as much of the public as I can of what is happening, and why I and some other folks, who aren’t writers, say that it is happening--as opposed to what the land developer’s and the VA’s spin on the story is. Because, I live on a monthly non-service connected VA disability check that about equals take home pay for a minimum wage job. The web sites that publish my writings are staffed by volunteers. The sites only stay afloat through meager advertising revenues and the efforts of their editors and contributors like me who desire to work as hard as they are able to, express themselves and have some fun writing short stories along with serious articles like this one. I am an ex-army and sometimes civilian photographer, though I never did a whole lot of photography after my discharge from the army, but that’s another story, and my photo portfolio is mostly in hibernation. This computer that I write my stuff on is an old, worn down thing, and it barely runs well enough to stay on the Internet long enough at a stretch to research and email info about these written articles of mine.

I do the best that I can with what I have to work with, so I hope that you will ‘take this ball and run with it’.

I am sending as many emails as I can about these VAMC articles to politicians, media outlets, Veterans Service Organizations, community groups, barber shops, etc. that are near the VAMCs on the list. My writings and email efforts may not change much.

I’m up against what is basically a done deal.

But, if I can help ensure fair veterans medical care compensation for the loss of our beloved, beautiful VA properties, then I have done something besides sit here watching TV all day while stewing in my U.S. Government issued disappointment and anger; all the time wondering why I didn’t live-fast-die-young-and-leave a good lookin’ corpse--like some of us were advised to do way back when.

I feel like the guy who defended himself from an armed robber by beating a reasonable amount of crap outa the criminal and then had to pay the robber’s medical expenses and give the robber money for insult and injury that the violent nature of the crime warranted, because the crime victim had no witnesses to back him up.

You may be able to help me make more of a difference though.

Make up and circulate petitions. Write to congress. Write local elected officials; they will say that it is a federal problem at first, but explain to them what any VA land developing will mean to your local infrastructure, school populations, traffic patterns, tax rates, etc., etc.. Attack it from that direction.

Collect stories from local vets and their families about how the VAMC helped them and whether or not it is in the right place for their reasonable convenience. Share that information with your local media.

Have town hall meetings that are set up so that you can get your views heard with significant enough power that stands up to the VA’s and land developer’s massive powers.

If the VA property in your area should be developed into housing, try and make sure that the profits from them are spent on veterans medical care. Make the developers compensate for the inconveniences to your community that they will swear is only necessary for the veterans own good.

Think of things to do about it that I could never conceive of doing. And pray.

There is very little chance that any one person, or even a massive portion of the American population, can do something to stop the government from doing what it wants to.

The United States Government has a long, well documented history of forgetting exactly who keeps this country free.

In 1932, World War One Veterans tried to get the government to give them promised war bonus money before they died and while they and their families were starving in the Great Depression. They camped out in Washington, D.C., along with some of their destitute family members, and protested for months. They were called the Bonus Army.

Eventually, U.S Army officers Douglas MacArthur and George S. Patton went into the Bonus Army’s encampment with fresh regular army troops and whupped the tar out of the same men whom they had led into muddy, bloody hell on earth in Europe during 1917-18, and then burned the camp. Some of those poor fellows’ impoverished family members were injured in the tear gas laced, brutal attack.

Web search “Bonus Army” and see for yourself.

It was because of the Bonus Army’s actions that the GI Bill for higher education benefits, and housing and business loans was written into law in 1944. The government was afraid that returning World War Two American Warriors would be disenchanted with the same crappy lives that they had led before the war and take over the government.

But don’t start an armed revolution, that just tends to make a bad situation worse.

To quote my good friend Tom G., who did two combat tours in Vietnam and then spent even more time than that later, during the past twenty years, in a half a dozen VA hospitals, “The government doesn’t give anything to veterans out of the goodness of its heart.”

In the movie Born On The Fourth Of July, there are scenes that accurately depict the rat infested, miserable condition that some VAMCs were in back during the Vietnam War. But, that aspect of VA health care system inadequacies has changed.

Today, VA hospitals have very high ratings in the medical world. The VAMC system is jammed packed with patients, not all vets who want in can get in. A short while back, the Baltimore VAMC put a one year moratorium on accepting new patients, when thousands of Bethlehem Steel retirees had their pensions pilfered and their earned lifetime civilian medical coverage confiscated. Though today’s VAMCs are crowded, vets often receive top notch treatment there.

We need more modern VA medical facilities. For the first time in our history, we have the quality of health care that veterans earned. We do not have the quantity that we need and earned.

Building new medical centers on VAMC properties using a fair dispensation of tax dollars is what I say should be done.

One time a fellow hospitalized vet, who was dying of cancer, and I were sitting on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay/Patapsco River commenting on how sweet it was to have Ft. Howard VAMC located where we could go outside in our hospital pajamas and get some fresh air in safety and privacy during our traumatic medical experience. He looked at me and said, “Ya know why they put this VA here? Up where I come from in Pennsylvania VA hospitals are all way up on a hill somewhere or back in where there aren’t too many people around. The government put us in out of the way places because people don’t like to see how ####ed up some vets are when they come back after wars.”

I don’t know. Ft. Howard was an old, obsolete army fort and was easily turned into a VAMC at the beginning of WW II. It was way out in the sticks at the time though.

Now some VAMCs are in developing, sometimes crowded, prime real estate markets. The powers that be want to make money off of them.

They say that they will use that money for improving veterans health care.

I say that I doubt that us veterans will get a fair enough share of that money to actually improve our VA health care services or to reasonably compensate us for the loss of the healing, safe, peaceful privacy and beauty of VAMCs like the Ft. Howard, Maryland and Livermore, California locations.

If the lease money from housing developments built on former VA hospital grounds improves health care for veterans, then I will eat my words in front of the Washington, D.C. Veterans Administration Regional Office at lunch time.

More Info On The VA CARES Web Site List of 18 VAMCs Under The Ax

By D. R. Crews

(first published April 21, 2006)

My article entitled "Eighteen More Veterans Administration Medical Centers Are Under The Ax" has caused a bit of confusion amongst some of the people who have read it. Let me clear this up.

The list of 18 VAMCs, that I have written about as being “under the ax”, comes from the VA’s own CARES web site. www.va.gov/cares/

By saying “Under The Ax”, I mean that government plans are either already in the works to chop up the VAMC properties, on the list, for partial or total non-VAMC reuse, or there are studies and proposals in motion to chop them up later. The proposals for reuse include leasing land parcels for anything to be built on them from high priced housing developments to various other types of buildings that are not for veterans only use.

CARES stands for Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services. It musta’ taken them a lot of brain stormin’ to come up with that one. It’s real good camouflage, that’s for sure.

Capital Asset Realignment basically means that the VA wants to make money by leasing out VAMC properties for reuse by anyone who wants to take the properties away from America’s Veterans. The Enhanced Services part is saying that the money from the leases will be used to make VA health care better and bigger, just not on VAMC properties that are located in nice, beautiful geographic areas or on high priced, heavily desired real estate.

Go to the CARES web site. On that web site there are links to reports on public and government meetings which were held to discuss the futures of each VAMC on the list. Put your computer’s on screen pointer under the name of any VAMC, that you wish info on, the pointer will turn into a hand, and then left click on the name and you will be led to the government’s version of what the facts of each VAMC realignment proposals are.

From emails I have received, concerning the 18 VAMCs article, I have learned that the not all of what the government said at the meetings came true. The folks in Walla Walla, Washington, who attended meetings and fought to keep their local VAMC open, were told that it would not change unless more funding was allocated to make it better. In late March, a veteran out there read my 18 VAMC article, went to a scheduled doctor’s appointment at the Walla Walla VAMC the next day, asked his VA Doctor if the VAMC would be closing, and the Doc told the veteran patient that the facility will be closing in 5 years. The vet, and his friend Barbara, who drove him to his appointment, went ‘right through the roof’, when they heard that.

The VA never gets all of the funding that it requests from congress, so the VA’s stated idea behind CARES is to make up for that lack of funding by leasing out unused or under used VA real estate. Most of that real estate is still desperately needed for VA health care, but there isn’t enough money in the VA’s budget to make good use of the properties.

If the VA were to receive sufficient funding to deliver the full amount of health care that America’s Military Veterans earned and need, then most VAMCs would never be considered for Capital Asset Realignment, because the medical facilities on the VA properties would be improved, expanded and have new, state of the art medical buildings built next to them. And those medical facilities would have plenty of patients using them.

Because the Veterans Administration Medical System is primarily used by either disabled veterans (like myself) or blue collar working class veterans, who have low to moderate incomes, who have very little political pull or financial power, there are wealthy, arrogant entities in this world who have no concern for the VA Health Care System or the average veteran who is a patient in a Veterans Administration Medical Center. Those politically and financially powerful entities are doing their best to take prime real estate VAMC properties and use them for their own selfish purposes.

CARES is one stinking, humongous, cloud of smoke being blown up the arses of America’s Veterans, current Military Personnel, their loved ones and other folks who do care about having enough well maintained, state of the art Veterans Administration Medical Centers to serve all veterans who need VA medical care.

Here is an email I received on Feb. 3, 2007. It concerns the battles going on in Milwaukee Wisconsin to save their VAMC from being turned into anything other than a VA Medical Center.

------ Forwarded Message
Subject: Re: Opposition Letters To All (and my response may be forwarded) - the short answer is - the letters need to be sent, and should already have been sent, and we need to move on. But in the interest of expanding on my reasoning, I provide the following expansion of my thoughts. It is somewhat long, but I hope worth your time. Why We Must Fight – Why We Must Win

We, as veterans, preservationists and citizens, have come this far, to the brink of victory over the City, because we have remained united in purpose, unequivocal in resolve, and singularly clear in our message – “No commercial development of the VA grounds that does not directly benefit veterans and their families.” The city’s most recent, and it thought clinching, proposal was this: Ø Massive commercial development (in competition for federal dollars and business with a still developing bio-research center on the county grounds), all of questionable benefit to anyone, let alone veterans;Ø The historic district converted to public housing (with “veterans preference”, which is, still to say, “public housing”);Ø The apparent gutting by the America’s Freedom Center (AFC) of the one building (the Ward Theater) with the most historic protection (interior and exterior); Ø New road infrastructure that would, contrary to the city’s claims, bring more undesired traffic to the district; Ø A token nod to veterans desires for more grave space in “floating” the idea of a columbarium; and a Ø Gratuitous statement of defense of green space on the bluff, a substantial part of which is already provided National Historic Site protection as a historic archeological reef If the city were to get control of the grounds with this plan, in time, and not very long, all would be lost.By design or happenstance, the American Legion leadership at the Mid-winter Conference received a one-sided, biased presentation of the City’s EUL plans. The plan’s creator and ONLY advocate, Rocky Marcoux, presented it. (Name another sold-out supporter of the city plan. Not AFC – their interest in the plan is only that part which involves them; they couldn’t care less about the rest of it. Common Bond? All they care about is a return on their potential investment in the public housing portion. The Mayor? He said he would pull out if he cannot get the agreement of veterans for Marcoux’s plan. Perhaps that’s what the city plan should properly be called – Marcoux’s Plan.)There is no question that Marcoux crafted his presentation and spun it to put it in the best possible light, tailoring it to the audience of veterans. (Does anyone for one moment believe that he made the same presentation to, for instance, Common Bond?) Only a few precious minutes were granted for a historic preservation advocate to present the opposing view. It is no wonder, then, that the committees Marcoux spoke to had a mixed, and in some cases I’m told, supportive response to his pitch – because they didn’t hear the rest of the story - the story that those of us (veterans, preservationist, and citizens) who have been on the front lines of this struggle know: Ø The VA Grounds have immense historic significance, both to veterans and to the larger community. It is the birthplace of America’s commitment to health care, and was bought and paid for by the citizens of the Milwaukee area, primarily through the inspiration and efforts of local women. Even as the VA has abandoned the district, it has remained as a place of solace and therapeutic serenity for veterans and their loved ones.Ø The need for the historic district as a place of veterans health and other services remains great. o The percentage of veterans returning from OEF/OIF with psychological service-connected disabilities is estimated to be the greatest in history, due to the pervasive nature of the threat in those war zones. o Female combat veterans are returning from OEF/OIF with health-care needs significantly different from male veterans. o Vietnam war veterans will be coming to the VA, many for the first time, for treatment of debilitating Agent Orange-related diseases. o The number of homeless/at-risk veterans remains at unacceptably high numbers. o The aging WWII and Korean War veterans (and their spouses) will place an increased demand on veterans/nursing homes, and hospices.o As the Spinal Cord Unit grows and demand for its services increases, there will be need for post-surgery recovery/rehabilitation beds and rooms. In addition, recent news reports indicates that the Milwaukee area may become a site of new advances in prosthetics for veterans, which may serve to draw these veterans to our area. o All of these needs, and others, could me, and should be, met, to a greater or lesser degree, in rehabilitated buildings in the Historic District. There is current space no where else.Ø The VA has expressed an interest in relocating the Pension Office back to the Historic District. This is an indication of an admission that there is a functional, current VA need for office space in the district. The VA no doubt has other space demands that have not yet been revealed.Ø Grave space is needed and available. Let me say again, there is space available. The area in which the City desires to erect a bio-med research park is an excellent site for expansion.Ø Reclaiming Our Heritage days, annually held the 1st weekend after Memorial Day, is the most important, the most significant, public veterans event in this region. The re-enactors, the encampments, the parades, the special events, the tours of the cemetery – it is a unique cultural and historic event. And it would eventually be terminated by the commercial development of the VA grounds. There would simply be no sufficient space, and it would not fit in a public housing tract and commercialized site.Where will the money for restoration come from? Congressional support is absolutely necessary in the aftermath of the city’s withdrawal.We need to solicit our legislators and other elected officials, including Mayor Barrett, to lend their influence and efforts to get the federal funding to rehabilitate the buildings and provide for the repopulation of the district with veterans health and other related services.Ø The local VA needs a bigger piece of the VA budget. We need to petition the Senate and House Veterans Services Committees to act in this area. In the coming weeks, a local veteran will be meeting with the new Chairman of the Senate Veterans Services Committee on this very issue.Private and public donations will also play a role, as they are in the on-going restoration of the historic chapel. Immediate action: Ø Our local veterans leadership needs to petition the local VA to establish a blue-ribbon committee of VA leaders and local veterans, to:o determine the unmet veterans health care and services shortfalls in our area. Several of them are listed above. o create a plan that determines how those veterans health care and associated services could best be housed and dispensed on the VA grounds and Historic District. The plan should include a provision for additional grave space. o make an estimate of the cost of rehabilitation of buildings and provision of services. There should be a prohibition on new construction on the VA grounds until there is full use of the existing infrastructure and buildings.o formally petition the VA and our legislators to provide the federal funding necessary to support the planØ Local veterans, preservationists and citizens, to support the federal dollars, should form a 501c(3) to establish a national program to raise additional funds for the restoration of the historic district.Ø Individuals, veterans and otherwise, beginning now, need to contact, on a regular basis, their elected representatives, to get them behind the plan to restore the district and increase/expand veterans programs. For this to be effective, it will require massive action – entire posts, entire organizations, and entire families, person by person doing their part.All of us – veterans, preservationists, citizens – need to stand united, unwavering, on this issue. We must save the district from commercial development and privatization. It must remain in the hands of the federal government and continue to be used for its first, and historic, purpose - The provision of health care and services to veterans. We are fighting this battle – for the silent graves, for this and future generations of veterans, for the citizens of this community, state and nation. Regards, Duff

Sent: Sat, 3 Feb 2007 2:02 PMSubject:
Fwd: Opposition Letters
Fellow Veterans,
I firmly feel we should meet again before the letters are sent to discuss the ramifications of getting the city out of the picture. The big ??? that must be answered is will the VA give away the grounds to anyone, and the Veterans will wind up with nothing, the way it happened in other parts of the country. Then what?? Will our politicians help us?? Where will the Millions of $$$ come from to fix the infrastructure,boilers,opening up the cemetery, housing for the Vets, Etc.??? Those were the ?? that the Legionaries were asking me at the winter conference. What would you tell them?? Lets take the chance and lose the grounds and all the buildings?? They already gave away all that land when the County Stadium was built. We can all say we don't want the land developed but what is the reality. Isn't there too much at stake here to chance letting the VA have there way??? What's better to have the Veterans gain a lot or lose everything???? We have to be cautious in the decision that is made because there probably will not be a second chance.
John Lewandowski
American Legion Post 18 (end of email)

This fellow Greg Jacobs had something to do with this email being forwarded around to VA health care advocates, but I don't understand email routing enough to figure out where he fits in. He is an employee of the VAMC so I shall include his contact info here.

Greg Jacobs
Vocational Rehabilitation Program Coordinator
Veterans Administration Regional Office
5400 West National Avenue, Room 146
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53214
Phone: (414) 902-5729Fax: (414) 902-9403

Here is an article from the Washington Post about how terrible medical services are at Walter Reed Army Medical Center:

Soldiers Face Neglect, Frustration At Army's Top Medical Facility
By Dana Priest and Anne Hull
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 18, 2007


Behind the door of Army Spec. Jeremy Duncan's room, part of the wall is torn and hangs in the air, weighted down with black mold. When the wounded combat engineer stands in his shower and looks up, he can see the bathtub on the floor above through a rotted hole. The entire building, constructed between the world wars, often smells like greasy carry-out. Signs of neglect are everywhere: mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses.

This is the world of Building 18, not the kind of place where Duncan expected to recover when he was evacuated to Walter Reed Army Medical Center from Iraq last February with a broken neck and a shredded left ear, nearly dead from blood loss. But the old lodge, just outside the gates of the hospital and five miles up the road from the White House, has housed hundreds of maimed soldiers recuperating from injuries suffered in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The common perception of Walter Reed is of a surgical hospital that shines as the crown jewel of military medicine. But 5 1/2 years of sustained combat have transformed the venerable 113-acre institution into something else entirely -- a holding ground for physically and psychologically damaged outpatients. Almost 700 of them -- the majority soldiers, with some Marines -- have been released from hospital beds but still need treatment or are awaiting bureaucratic decisions before being discharged or returned to active duty.

They suffer from brain injuries, severed arms and legs, organ and back damage, and various degrees of post-traumatic stress. Their legions have grown so exponentially -- they outnumber hospital patients at Walter Reed 17 to 1 -- that they take up every available bed on post and spill into dozens of nearby hotels and apartments leased by the Army. The average stay is 10 months, but some have been stuck there for as long as two years.

Not all of the quarters are as bleak as Duncan's, but the despair of Building 18 symbolizes a larger problem in Walter Reed's treatment of the wounded, according to dozens of soldiers, family members, veterans aid groups, and current and former Walter Reed staff members interviewed by two Washington Post reporters, who spent more than four months visiting the outpatient world without the knowledge or permission of Walter Reed officials. Many agreed to be quoted by name; others said they feared Army retribution if they complained publicly.

While the hospital is a place of scrubbed-down order and daily miracles, with medical advances saving more soldiers than ever, the outpatients in the Other Walter Reed encounter a messy bureaucratic battlefield nearly as chaotic as the real battlefields they faced overseas.

On the worst days, soldiers say they feel like they are living a chapter of "Catch-22." The wounded manage other wounded. Soldiers dealing with psychological disorders of their own have been put in charge of others at risk of suicide.

Disengaged clerks, unqualified platoon sergeants and overworked case managers fumble with simple needs: feeding soldiers' families who are close to poverty, replacing a uniform ripped off by medics in the desert sand or helping a brain-damaged soldier remember his next appointment.

"We've done our duty. We fought the war. We came home wounded. Fine. But whoever the people are back here who are supposed to give us the easy transition should be doing it," said Marine Sgt. Ryan Groves, 26, an amputee who lived at Walter Reed for 16 months. "We don't know what to do. The people who are supposed to know don't have the answers. It's a nonstop process of stalling."

Soldiers, family members, volunteers and caregivers who have tried to fix the system say each mishap seems trivial by itself, but the cumulative effect wears down the spirits of the wounded and can stall their recovery.

"It creates resentment and disenfranchisement," said Joe Wilson, a clinical social worker at Walter Reed. "These soldiers will withdraw and stay in their rooms. They will actively avoid the very treatment and services that are meant to be helpful."

Danny Soto, a national service officer for Disabled American Veterans who helps dozens of wounded service members each week at Walter Reed, said soldiers "get awesome medical care and their lives are being saved," but, "Then they get into the administrative part of it and they are like, 'You saved me for what?' The soldiers feel like they are not getting proper respect. This leads to anger."

This world is invisible to outsiders. Walter Reed occasionally showcases the heroism of these wounded soldiers and emphasizes that all is well under the circumstances. President Bush, former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and members of Congress have promised the best care during their regular visits to the hospital's spit-polished amputee unit, Ward 57.

"We owe them all we can give them," Bush said during his last visit, a few days before Christmas. "Not only for when they're in harm's way, but when they come home to help them adjust if they have wounds, or help them adjust after their time in service."

Along with the government promises, the American public, determined not to repeat the divisive Vietnam experience, has embraced the soldiers even as the war grows more controversial at home. Walter Reed is awash in the generosity of volunteers, businesses and celebrities who donate money, plane tickets, telephone cards and steak dinners.

Yet at a deeper level, the soldiers say they feel alone and frustrated. Seventy-five percent of the troops polled by Walter Reed last March said their experience was "stressful." Suicide attempts and unintentional overdoses from prescription drugs and alcohol, which is sold on post, are part of the narrative here.

Vera Heron spent 15 frustrating months living on post to help care for her son. "It just absolutely took forever to get anything done," Heron said. "They do the paperwork, they lose the paperwork. Then they have to redo the paperwork. You are talking about guys and girls whose lives are disrupted for the rest of their lives, and they don't put any priority on it."

Family members who speak only Spanish have had to rely on Salvadoran housekeepers, a Cuban bus driver, the Panamanian bartender and a Mexican floor cleaner for help. Walter Reed maintains a list of bilingual staffers, but they are rarely called on, according to soldiers and families and Walter Reed staff members.

Evis Morales's severely wounded son was transferred to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda for surgery shortly after she arrived at Walter Reed. She had checked into her government-paid room on post, but she slept in the lobby of the Bethesda hospital for two weeks because no one told her there is a free shuttle between the two facilities. "They just let me off the bus and said 'Bye-bye,' " recalled Morales, a Puerto Rico resident.

Morales found help after she ran out of money, when she called a hotline number and a Spanish-speaking operator happened to answer.

"If they can have Spanish-speaking recruits to convince my son to go into the Army, why can't they have Spanish-speaking translators when he's injured?" Morales asked.
"It's so confusing, so disorienting."

Soldiers, wives, mothers, social workers and the heads of volunteer organizations have complained repeatedly to the military command about what one called "The Handbook No One Gets" that would explain life as an outpatient. Most soldiers polled in the March survey said they got their information from friends. Only 12 percent said any Army literature had been helpful.

"They've been behind from Day One," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), who headed the House Government Reform Committee, which investigated problems at Walter Reed and other Army facilities. "Even the stuff they've fixed has only been patched."

Among the public, Davis said, "there's vast appreciation for soldiers, but there's a lack of focus on what happens to them" when they return. "It's awful."

Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, commander at Walter Reed, said in an interview last week that a major reason outpatients stay so long, a change from the days when injured soldiers were discharged as quickly as possible, is that the Army wants to be able to hang on to as many soldiers as it can, "because this is the first time this country has fought a war for so long with an all-volunteer force since the Revolution."

Acknowledging the problems with outpatient care, Weightman said Walter Reed has taken steps over the past year to improve conditions for the outpatient army, which at its peak in summer 2005 numbered nearly 900, not to mention the hundreds of family members who come to care for them. One platoon sergeant used to be in charge of 125 patients; now each one manages 30. Platoon sergeants with psychological problems are more carefully screened. And officials have increased the numbers of case managers and patient advocates to help with the complex disability benefit process, which Weightman called "one of the biggest sources of delay."

And to help steer the wounded and their families through the complicated bureaucracy, Weightman said, Walter Reed has recently begun holding twice-weekly informational meetings. "We felt we were pushing information out before, but the reality is, it was overwhelming," he said. "Is it fail-proof? No. But we've put more resources on it."

He said a 21,500-troop increase in Iraq has Walter Reed bracing for "potentially a lot more" casualties.Bureaucratic Battles

The best known of the Army's medical centers, Walter Reed opened in 1909 with 10 patients. It has treated the wounded from every war since, and nearly one of every four service members injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The outpatients are assigned to one of five buildings attached to the post, including Building 18, just across from the front gates on Georgia Avenue. To accommodate the overflow, some are sent to nearby hotels and apartments. Living conditions range from the disrepair of Building 18 to the relative elegance of Mologne House, a hotel that opened on the post in 1998, when the typical guest was a visiting family member or a retiree on vacation.

The Pentagon has announced plans to close Walter Reed by 2011, but that hasn't stopped the flow of casualties. Three times a week, school buses painted white and fitted with stretchers and blackened windows stream down Georgia Avenue. Sirens blaring, they deliver soldiers groggy from a pain-relief cocktail at the end of their long trip from Iraq via Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and Andrews Air Force Base.

Staff Sgt. John Daniel Shannon, 43, came in on one of those buses in November 2004 and spent several weeks on the fifth floor of Walter Reed's hospital. His eye and skull were shattered by an AK-47 round. His odyssey in the Other Walter Reed has lasted more than two years, but it began when someone handed him a map of the grounds and told him to find his room across post.

A reconnaissance and land-navigation expert, Shannon was so disoriented that he couldn't even find north. Holding the map, he stumbled around outside the hospital, sliding against walls and trying to keep himself upright, he said. He asked anyone he found for directions.

Shannon had led the 2nd Infantry Division's Ghost Recon Platoon until he was felled in a gun battle in Ramadi. He liked the solitary work of a sniper; "Lone Wolf" was his call name. But he did not expect to be left alone by the Army after such serious surgery and a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. He had appointments during his first two weeks as an outpatient, then nothing.

"I thought, 'Shouldn't they contact me?' " he said. "I didn't understand the paperwork. I'd start calling phone numbers, asking if I had appointments. I finally ran across someone who said: 'I'm your case manager. Where have you been?'

"Well, I've been here! Jeez Louise, people, I'm your hospital patient!"

Like Shannon, many soldiers with impaired memory from brain injuries sat for weeks with no appointments and no help from the staff to arrange them. Many disappeared even longer. Some simply left for home.

One outpatient, a 57-year-old staff sergeant who had a heart attack in Afghanistan, was given 200 rooms to supervise at the end of 2005. He quickly discovered that some outpatients had left the post months earlier and would check in by phone. "We called them 'call-in patients,' " said Staff Sgt. Mike McCauley, whose dormant PTSD from Vietnam was triggered by what he saw on the job: so many young and wounded, and three bodies being carried from the hospital.

Life beyond the hospital bed is a frustrating mountain of paperwork. The typical soldier is required to file 22 documents with eight different commands -- most of them off-post -- to enter and exit the medical processing world, according to government investigators. Sixteen different information systems are used to process the forms, but few of them can communicate with one another. The Army's three personnel databases cannot read each other's files and can't interact with the separate pay system or the medical recordkeeping databases.

The disappearance of necessary forms and records is the most common reason soldiers languish at Walter Reed longer than they should, according to soldiers, family members and staffers. Sometimes the Army has no record that a soldier even served in Iraq. A combat medic who did three tours had to bring in letters and photos of herself in Iraq to show she that had been there, after a clerk couldn't find a record of her service.

Shannon, who wears an eye patch and a visible skull implant, said he had to prove he had served in Iraq when he tried to get a free uniform to replace the bloody one left behind on a medic's stretcher. When he finally tracked down the supply clerk, he discovered the problem: His name was mistakenly left off the "GWOT list" -- the list of "Global War on Terrorism" patients with priority funding from the Defense Department.

He brought his Purple Heart to the clerk to prove he was in Iraq.

Lost paperwork for new uniforms has forced some soldiers to attend their own Purple Heart ceremonies and the official birthday party for the Army in gym clothes, only to be chewed out by superiors.

The Army has tried to re-create the organization of a typical military unit at Walter Reed. Soldiers are assigned to one of two companies while they are outpatients -- the Medical Holding Company (Medhold) for active-duty soldiers and the Medical Holdover Company for Reserve and National Guard soldiers. The companies are broken into platoons that are led by platoon sergeants, the Army equivalent of a parent.

Under normal circumstances, good sergeants know everything about the soldiers under their charge: vices and talents, moods and bad habits, even family stresses.

At Walter Reed, however, outpatients have been drafted to serve as platoon sergeants and have struggled with their responsibilities. Sgt. David Thomas, a 42-year-old amputee with the Tennessee National Guard, said his platoon sergeant couldn't remember his name. "We wondered if he had mental problems," Thomas said. "Sometimes

I'd wear my leg, other times I'd take my wheelchair. He would think I was a different person. We thought, 'My God, has this man lost it?' "

Civilian care coordinators and case managers are supposed to track injured soldiers and help them with appointments, but government investigators and soldiers complain that they are poorly trained and often do not understand the system.

One amputee, a senior enlisted man who asked not to be identified because he is back on active duty, said he received orders to report to a base in Germany as he sat drooling in his wheelchair in a haze of medication. "I went to Medhold many times in my wheelchair to fix it, but no one there could help me," he said.

Finally, his wife met an aide to then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, who got the erroneous paperwork corrected with one phone call. When the aide called with the news, he told the soldier, "They don't even know you exist."

"They didn't know who I was or where I was," the soldier said. "And I was in contact with my platoon sergeant every day."

The lack of accountability weighed on Shannon. He hated the isolation of the younger troops. The Army's failure to account for them each day wore on him. When a 19-year-old soldier down the hall died, Shannon knew he had to take action.

The soldier, Cpl. Jeremy Harper, returned from Iraq with PTSD after seeing three buddies die. He kept his room dark, refused his combat medals and always seemed heavily medicated, said people who knew him. According to his mother, Harper was drunkenly wandering the lobby of the Mologne House on New Year's Eve 2004, looking for a ride home to West Virginia. The next morning he was found dead in his room. An autopsy showed alcohol poisoning, she said.

"I can't understand how they could have let kids under the age of 21 have liquor," said Victoria Harper, crying. "He was supposed to be right there at Walter Reed hospital. . . . I feel that they didn't take care of him or watch him as close as they should have."

The Army posthumously awarded Harper a Bronze Star for his actions in Iraq.

Shannon viewed Harper's death as symptomatic of a larger tragedy -- the Army had broken its covenant with its troops. "Somebody didn't take care of him," he would later say. "It makes me want to cry. "

Shannon and another soldier decided to keep tabs on the brain injury ward. "I'm a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, and I take care of people," he said. The two soldiers walked the ward every day with a list of names. If a name dropped off the large white board at the nurses' station, Shannon would hound the nurses to check their files and figure out where the soldier had gone.

Sometimes the patients had been transferred to another hospital. If they had been released to one of the residences on post, Shannon and his buddy would pester the front desk managers to make sure the new charges were indeed there. "But two out of 10, when I asked where they were, they'd just say, 'They're gone,' " Shannon said.

Even after Weightman and his commanders instituted new measures to keep better track of soldiers, two young men left post one night in November and died in a high-speed car crash in Virginia. The driver was supposed to be restricted to Walter Reed because he had tested positive for illegal drugs, Weightman said.

Part of the tension at Walter Reed comes from a setting that is both military and medical. Marine Sgt. Ryan Groves, the squad leader who lost one leg and the use of his other in a grenade attack, said his recovery was made more difficult by a Marine liaison officer who had never seen combat but dogged him about having his mother in his room on post. The rules allowed her to be there, but the officer said she was taking up valuable bed space.

"When you join the Marine Corps, they tell you, you can forget about your mama. 'You have no mama. We are your mama,' " Groves said. "That training works in combat. It doesn't work when you are wounded."

Frustration at Every Turn

The frustrations of an outpatient's day begin before dawn. On a dark, rain-soaked morning this winter, Sgt. Archie Benware, 53, hobbled over to his National Guard platoon office at Walter Reed. Benware had done two tours in Iraq. His head had been crushed between two 2,100-pound concrete barriers in Ramadi, and now it was dented like a tin can. His legs were stiff from knee surgery. But here he was, trying to take care of business.

At the platoon office, he scanned the white board on the wall. Six soldiers were listed as AWOL. The platoon sergeant was nowhere to be found, leaving several soldiers stranded with their requests.

Benware walked around the corner to arrange a dental appointment -- his teeth were knocked out in the accident. He was told by a case manager that another case worker, not his doctor, would have to approve the procedure.

"Goddamn it, that's unbelievable!" snapped his wife, Barb, who accompanied him because he can no longer remember all of his appointments.

Not as unbelievable as the time he received a manila envelope containing the gynecological report of a young female soldier.

Next came 7 a.m. formation, one way Walter Reed tries to keep track of hundreds of wounded. Formation is also held to maintain some discipline. Soldiers limp to the old Red Cross building in rain, ice and snow. Army regulations say they can't use umbrellas, even here. A triple amputee has mastered the art of putting on his uniform by himself and rolling in just in time. Others are so gorked out on pills that they seem on the verge of nodding off.

"Fall in!" a platoon sergeant shouted at Friday formation. The noisy room of soldiers turned silent.

An Army chaplain opened with a verse from the Bible. "Why are we here?" she asked. She talked about heroes and service to country. "We were injured in many ways."

Someone announced free tickets to hockey games, a Ravens game, a movie screening, a dinner at McCormick and Schmick's, all compliments of local businesses.

Every formation includes a safety briefing. Usually it is a warning about mixing alcohol with meds, or driving too fast, or domestic abuse. "Do not beat your spouse or children. Do not let your spouse or children beat you," a sergeant said, to laughter. This morning's briefing included a warning about black ice, a particular menace to the amputees.

Dress warm, the sergeant said. "I see some guys rolling around in their wheelchairs in 30 degrees in T-shirts."

Soldiers hate formation for its petty condescension. They gutted out a year in the desert, and now they are being treated like children.

"I'm trying to think outside the box here, maybe moving formation to Wagner Gym," the commander said, addressing concerns that formation was too far from soldiers' quarters in the cold weather. "But guess what? Those are nice wood floors. They have to be covered by a tarp. There's a tarp that's got to be rolled out over the wooden floors. Then it has to be cleaned, with 400 soldiers stepping all over it. Then it's got to be rolled up."

"Now, who thinks Wagner Gym is a good idea?"

Explaining this strange world to family members is not easy. At an orientation for new arrivals, a staff sergeant walked them through the idiosyncrasies of Army financing. He said one relative could receive a 15-day advance on the $64 per diem either in cash or as an electronic transfer: "I highly recommend that you take the cash," he said. "There's no guarantee the transfer will get to your bank." The audience yawned.

Actually, he went on, relatives can collect only 80 percent of this advance, which comes to $51.20 a day. "The cashier has no change, so we drop to $50. We give you the rest" -- the $1.20 a day -- "when you leave."

The crowd was anxious, exhausted. A child crawled on the floor. The sergeant plowed on. "You need to figure out how long your loved one is going to be an inpatient," he said, something even the doctors can't accurately predict from day to day. "Because if you sign up for the lodging advance," which is $150 a day, "and they get out the next day, you owe the government the advance back of $150 a day."

A case manager took the floor to remind everyone that soldiers are required to be in uniform most of the time, though some of the wounded are amputees or their legs are pinned together by bulky braces. "We have break-away clothing with Velcro!" she announced with a smile. "Welcome to Walter Reed!"A Bleak Life in Building 18

"Building 18! There is a rodent infestation issue!" bellowed the commander to his troops one morning at formation. "It doesn't help when you live like a rodent! I can't believe people live like that! I was appalled by some of your rooms!"
Life in Building 18 is the bleakest homecoming for men and women whose government promised them good care in return for their sacrifices.

One case manager was so disgusted, she bought roach bombs for the rooms. Mouse traps are handed out. It doesn't help that soldiers there subsist on carry-out food because the hospital cafeteria is such a hike on cold nights. They make do with microwaves and hot plates.

Army officials say they "started an aggressive campaign to deal with the mice infestation" last October and that the problem is now at a "manageable level." They also say they will "review all outstanding work orders" in the next 30 days.
Soldiers discharged from the psychiatric ward are often assigned to Building 18. Buses and ambulances blare all night. While injured soldiers pull guard duty in the foyer, a broken garage door allows unmonitored entry from the rear. Struggling with schizophrenia, PTSD, paranoid delusional disorder and traumatic brain injury, soldiers feel especially vulnerable in that setting, just outside the post gates, on a street where drug dealers work the corner at night.

"I've been close to mortars. I've held my own pretty good," said Spec. George Romero, 25, who came back from Iraq with a psychological disorder. "But here . . . I think it has affected my ability to get over it . . . dealing with potential threats every day."

After Spec. Jeremy Duncan, 30, got out of the hospital and was assigned to Building 18, he had to navigate across the traffic of Georgia Avenue for appointments. Even after knee surgery, he had to limp back and forth on crutches and in pain. Over time, black mold invaded his room.

But Duncan would rather suffer with the mold than move to another room and share his convalescence in tight quarters with a wounded stranger. "I have mold on the walls, a hole in the shower ceiling, but . . . I don't want someone waking me up coming in."

Wilson, the clinical social worker at Walter Reed, was part of a staff team that recognized Building 18's toll on the wounded. He mapped out a plan and, in September, was given a $30,000 grant from the Commander's Initiative Account for improvements. He ordered some equipment, including a pool table and air hockey table, which have not yet arrived. A Psychiatry Department functionary held up the rest of the money because she feared that buying a lot of recreational equipment close to Christmas would trigger an audit, Wilson said.

In January, Wilson was told that the funds were no longer available and that he would have to submit a new request. "It's absurd," he said. "Seven months of work down the drain. I have nothing to show for this project. It's a great example of what we're up against."

A pool table and two flat-screen TVs were eventually donated from elsewhere.

But Wilson had had enough. Three weeks ago he turned in his resignation. "It's too difficult to get anything done with this broken-down bureaucracy," he said.

At town hall meetings, the soldiers of Building 18 keep pushing commanders to improve conditions. But some things have gotten worse. In December, a contracting dispute held up building repairs.

"I hate it," said Romero, who stays in his room all day. "There are cockroaches. The elevator doesn't work. The garage door doesn't work. Sometimes there's no heat, no water. . . . I told my platoon sergeant I want to leave. I told the town hall meeting. I talked to the doctors and medical staff. They just said you kind of got to get used to the outside world. . . . My platoon sergeant said, 'Suck it up!' "

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

Copyright material is distributed without profit or payment for research andeducational purposes only, in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.Reference: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

Today is March 13, 2007. I am adding this 20-year-old newspaper article about when a veteran became a volunteer undercover investigator at a Veterans Administration Medical Center in Atlanta Georgia. This should have gotten the same attention as the recent Washington Post articles about lousy treatment of active military personnel and veterans who need medical care and/or disability benefits.

Unfortunately for now, I can not get the photos on this article to load. They show the same exact type of falling apart and neglected hospital ward physical conditions that were exposed in the mold and peeling paint photos now infamous on the Washington Post and other media outlets' reports on Walter Reed Hospital.

The Newnan Times-Herald
Newnan, Georgia – Thursday, July 2, 1987

Veteran Crusades For Better VA Care
(Walter Reed Nothing New)
By W. Winston Skinner
Assistant News Editor

It was – perhaps – the most daring role in Jere Beery’s career.

He has been a stuntman, an actor, a model. As a young man, he went to serve his country in Vietnam and suffered shrapnel damage to his leg that has never completely healed.

But after months of seemingly uncaring treatment and encounters with short-tempered staff at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Atlanta, Jere Beery had had enough. It was time to do something, and Beery decided to do something daring.

When he told his wife Donna that he planned to infiltrate the mental ward at t he hospital for veterans in Atlanta, she was opposed. Gradually, he convinced her to let him try, to see if he could find out just what the problem was at the V. A. Medical Center.

The problem, he found, had many facets – understaffing, lack of supplies, untrained personnel. The many parts added up to a very disturbing whole for Jere Beery – an unwillingness on the part of the American government to spend what it costs to have good medical care for those who fought for their homeland.

Beery knows what it means to give his best in service to America. He earned three purple hearts during his 27 months in Vietnam, including one on Valentine’s Day of 1968.

On March 1 of that year, he was serving with Special Forces there. While he stood at his post, he suffered a direct hit. He remained on his feet, but his intestines hung nearly to the deck of the ship.

“Most of my hip is gone,” he said.

An officer aboard the boat, Lt. Richard Godbehere, lay Beery down and helped get the ship and crew back to safety, despite his own wounds. Beery finds significance in his rescuer’s surname, pronounced “God-be-here.”

Lt. T. J. Cutler of the U> S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, is writing a book due out this summer with a chapter on Godbehere and Beery.

Beery also suffered permanent damage to his eye, and he received shrapnel wounds “all over my body,” he said. A re-evaluation of his case in 1976 said that Beery is “permanently and totally disabled, due to a service connected disability or disabilities.”

After his injury, he was told he would never walk again. At first, it appeared he would lose his leg.

“They seemed to think it would be easier to take the leg off than to repair all the damage,” Beery said. Instead, doctors opted for repairing the damage as best they could.

That first hospital stay lasted 18 months. “I received the best possible medical attention,” Beery said. Since that time, he has been in and out of Veterans Administration hospitals.

He noticed as he went to the hospital in Atlanta that the waiting was growing longer, and the patience of the staff was growing shorter. Beery decided to put his talents to work and try to find out what the problem was in the V.A. hospital.

Jere Beery comes from a theatrical family.

Before his parents married, his mother dated Buddy Ebsen. His father appeared in such films as “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” and film actors Noah Beery and Wallace Beery are relatives.

Jere, known as Scooter as a child, made his acting debut in a little theater production at the age of 8.

After his war injury, he went to DeVry Institute and studied electronics. After graduating, he discovered that he had headaches when doing electronics work for an extended time.

He then turned to music, starting his own recording studio. That venture fell victim to a hearing problem of which Beery had been unaware.

“I went to the VA and learned I had frequency loss in my hearing,” he said.

From there, Beery tried the eclectic approach. He became a stuntman, actor and model. In 1979, he got the role of Burnett in a CBS special, “The Ordeal of Dr. Mudd” with Dennis Weaver and Susan Sullivan.

The same year, he had a role in a feature film, “The Prizefighter,” followed by roles or stunt work in “Tough City,” “Final Exam,” “Cannonball Run” and “Breaking Away” in 1980. That year he played the role of the welfare man, as well as performed some stunts, in “Baker County U.S.A.” filmed in the north Georgia town of Clayton.

Other feature films he has worked on include “Night Screams” and “Sharky’s Machine” in 1981, “Door to Door” in 1983, “Slugger’s Wife,” “Making the Grade,” “The Baron and the Kid” and “The Annihilators” in 1985.

He has also worked with the Georgia Department of Transportation on a DUI campaign, conducted training programs for the Georgia Police Academy and other groups and appeared in music videos.

Donna Beery “rigs” her husband for his stunts. In “Final Exam,” he did a 57-foot backwards fall. He did a back burn stunt for a benefit for the Atlanta Symphony in 1985.

I’ve rolled quite a few cars,” Beery said.

If Beery’s background and experience made him an ideal “undercover” agent to investigate the VA Hospital, it was his survival in Vietnam that gave him the sense that he had to do something to help his fellow veterans.

“I can’t help feeling I’m on a mission from God,” Beery said.

He said he wanted to do something to help other veterans, recalling the role of Godbehere and others in saving his life. “I owe everything I am and everything I have to them,” Beery said.

“I’m not a preacher, I’m not a politician. I’m a vet,” he said. “I’m supposed to do something sometime about something.”

Beery’s “something” is the condition of the VA hospitals and the treatment of veterans there and in such films as “The Deerhunter” and “Apocalypse Now.”

He has talked about burning his Screen Actors Guild card in protest of the movie industry’s depiction of Vietnam veterans as inhumane drug addicts. “I’m willing to go on television and burn it because of all the negative productions that have come out of Hollywood – not for the vet but against the vet,” Beery said.

His decision to enter the hospital on April 9 of this year took little effort.

He told a doctor about “fears” he could not overcome. After an evaluation with a social worker, he was admitted.

Again, Jere and Donna Beery were struck by the shortness and rude attitudes of many hospital employees. One woman took off the name tag “so I couldn’t get her name,” Mrs. Beery said.

Beery was admitted to the fourth floor lockup area for acute mental patients. He and Donna said their good-byes, and the doors closed.

“I was in. Little did I realize at the time how much I had bitten off,” Beery said.

What Beery found in the mental ward made him even more disconsolate and more determined to improve the situation at the hospital. He was struck “by how dirty it was,” he said.

He found it to be “a mental ward that is mentally disturbing.”

While the bottom floor of the hospital, where the public generally goes, is spotless, he said, the mental ward was dirty. Beery said he found rusted bathroom fixtures, missing floorboard trim, repairs made with masking tape, stained walls and ceiling tiles, missing switch plates, windows coated with greasy film and bathrooms in need of extensive cleaning.

One night Jere awoke to a shock. “There were roaches crawling on me in the middle of the night,” he said.

While Jere lived on the mental ward for five days, talking with patients and taking notes and photographs, Donna visited with employees and families in the cafeteria and in other locations around the hospital.

She was told hospital personnel have had only a three percent raise in the past five years. “We went in thinking it was all the staff,” Jere said of the problems.

His wife learned that many of the women working at the hospital are spouses of veterans. “Otherwise, they wouldn’t even be there,” she said.

Donna Beery also said she found that victims of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome – AIDS – were not quarantined in the hospital, but were scatted among the other patients.

For five days, Beery “acted like a sponge – soaking up all I could, “ he said. He talked with the other men on the ward – many of them older men who fought in Korea or in the first or second world wars.

Many of the residents on the floor were disoriented much of the time, Beery said. One man had been in various VA hospitals for 26 years.

Most of the doctors at the hospital are young and have little experience, while medical students also provide care at the facility, Beery said. “You get practiced on,” he said.

Robert E. Long, associate director at the VA Medical Center in Atlanta, disagreed with some of Beery’s assertions. He said the Veterans Administration “fares extremely well as far as competition for the federal dollar goes.”

He said salaries for VA employees are set by the government and, therefore, employees in some fields are paid less than in private hospitals. “All federal programs are controlled from a federal point of view,” he said.

Long insisted that the hospitals do receive sufficient funds, and he said cleanliness is emphasized at the Atlanta facility. He described the VA Medical Center as being “as clean a hospital as there is in this city.”

Back at home, Jere Beery could not forget about what he had seen and experienced at the VA Hospital.

He and Donna read everything they could find on the shrinking veteran’s benefits package. Publications of the Disabled American Veterans organizations warned of many attacks on benefits for veterans and chronicled the history of the removal of benefits promised to veterans during the Vietnam era.

Beery – and many other veterans – are upset by the fact that the White House has sent a bill to Congress categorizing some veteran’s programs as “welfare.” The bill would place the VA disability pension program, health care for non-service disabilities and other programs under state welfare systems.

Many veterans are shocked that the United States government would place benefits which they were promised – and which they feel they have earned – into a welfare program.

An article in the DAV Magazine in February chronicled the attacks on veteran’s benefits which first began in 1973 before the United States was completely disengaged from combat in Vietnam.

The proposals in government to cut services to veterans continued yearly. In 1979, extensive cuts were made in hospital beds and personnel in VA facilities. In 1979 extensive cuts were made in hospital beds and personnel in VA facilities. “The quality of care veterans received at VA medical centers began to deteriorate seriously,” the article stated.

In 1983 a few months after dedication of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, the Grace Commission recommended that the Veterans Administration be eliminated as an agency of the government. That effort failed.

Two years later, the healthy care system was continuing to deteriorate. “The VA admitted that lack of resources was forcing its medical system to deny care to several thousand veterans each month,” according to the DAV Magazine.

“Last year was clearly the worst year yet. It was proposed that 7,500 employees and 2,700 hospital beds be stripped from the VA system. The number of veterans turned away from the VA medical system without treatment continued its upward climb,” the article continued.

Correspondence from the VA Hospital in Atlanta confirmed the DAV reports of shrinking hospital benefits. Earlier this year, the Beerys received a notice stating that travel reimbursement was being greatly curtailed. The Beerys had learned that many veterans’ families used the money they received for travel to pay a sitter to keep their children.

Under the new regulations, someone who traveled 120 miles to reach the hospital would receive $2.20. Beery used to get $4.88 for the trek from Union City to Atlanta, and no reimbursement is now being given for travel of less than 100 miles.

The Beerys predicted that cutting out the travel benefit will prevent many veterans living at a distance from the VA facilities from seeking the care they are entitled to there.

As veteran’s benefits drop, the number of older Americans with a service record grows. According to information distributed by the DAV, there were 3.3 million veterans over age 65 in 1980. That number is expected to grow to 7.3 million by 1990 and 9 million by 2000.

Something must be done, Jere Beery believes, to save the programs that help people who were willing to give their lives for American freedom. “I don’t think the general public is aware of the situation,” he said.

Donna Beery said the attitude of the veterans themselves is heartbreaking when she sees the frustration of the personnel and the increasing decline in the facilities. The veterans remain friendly and smiling despite the problems at the hospital.

Mrs. Beery said everyone should just sit in the hospital one day and see the veterans who come there for help. “It’s the saddest thing in the world,” she said.

Today is March 14, 2007 and I received the following article in an email. This is about a follow up on what Jere Beery was doing years ago in his long fight for veterans rights.

The Newnan Times-Herald
Newnan , Georgia – December 4, 1996

Beery asked to file brief in
Supreme Court suit against VA
By W. Winston Skinner
Assistant News Editor

Local veteran activist Jere Beery has been asked to file a friend of the court brief in a case aimed at changing the workings of the Department of Veteran Affairs.

Beery has been a vocal critic of the VA health care system for more than a decade. He said that the VA system has made promises to veterans that it cannot keep.

He has kept records of patients who received poor treatment at VA facilities and has documented lengthy waits for service and other facets of VA care that are not typical of the private sector medical system.

Stephen Marozsan of South Bend, IN Is preparing a suit for hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court in which he seeks to remove certain protections given to the VA on Constitutional grounds.

Marozsan said that the protections given to VA constitute “the biggest national conspiracy” in the nation’s history. He said that few people are aware that VA cannot be sued in regular courts for any negligence or abuse of patients.

He said that an 1857 law that is still in effect limits compensation to a lawyer suing VA to $10 per case. The two laws in combination make it almost impossible to challenge the Constitutionality of the VA’s position.

Marozsan said this week that the current laws allow VA to allocate disability rating for servicemen based on a quota rather than on objective data. As a result, he said, thousands of veterans are “getting defrauded out of their disability compensation.”

Marozsan is “the only one who has been able to keep the Veterans Administration in the courts for 15 years,” he said. He said that no court to date has really examined “how the system was set up.”

The Economy Act of 1933 included a clause that “no veteran could have access to the federal courts” for claims against VA, he said. That clause was found unconstitutional, but similar language was included in a 1940 bill and has remained law since.

There is a Court of Veteran Appeals to hear complaints against the VA. Those courts can advise the VA with opinions or make suggestions, but cannot order VA to change policy or compensate victims, Marozsan said.

As far as the Indiana veteran is concerned, the Court of Veteran Appeals changes nothing. “They are powerless,” he said of veterans having problems with VA. The court has “no power to correct,” he said.

“I’ve got to go to Constitutional laws” to challenge the current VA procedures, Marozsan said.

While Marozsan wants to change the way VA works for everyone, he has a personal stake in the case. He is a disabled veteran, but feels that his condition was not accurately evaluated by the VA.

He said that he receives $170 per month from VA “without any opportunity to ever be gainfully employed. He said that his studies have shown him that he is not alone, and he feels that strengthens his case.

The Supreme Court “doesn’t care if there’s only one or two veterans who are getting slighted,” he said. Marozsan said he asked Beery to submit an amicus curiae brief because of Beery’s knowledge of the VA system and because Beery is a Vietnam veteran.

Marozsan served in World War II. He said that in his case he wants to show that all living veterans – past, present and future – are not given the rights of other people with regard to medical care. “The Gulf War veterans are now being put into the same grinding system,” he said.

“The overall picture has never been exposed to the American people,” Marozsan said. He said that the Constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law are violated by VA regulations.

Beery said that a veteran who does not receive good medical care at a VA facility “should have the right to sue.” He agreed with Marozsan that the complexity and size of the VA system makes it hard to fight, especially for veterans who have no other option for health services.

“They hold all the marbles. They hold everything,” he said.

Beery said that veterans have generally been stoic about VA’s rules. Their military training reinforces the idea of carrying on despite difficulties. He said that the large number of veteran service organizations has also kept veterans from having a single powerful voice to stand up for their needs.

The immensity of the situation – and the potential cost of a reformed system has made it untouchable politically. “None of the politicians want to be the one to do it,” said Beery, who lives north of Newnan.

Marozsan said that he has been able to keep his case in court because he lives near the Notre Dame University Law School. He said that he has spent the past 20 years poring over law books and case records in the law school library.

He is representing himself in his current suit, which has been around since 1986 in one form or another.

Marozsan said that at one time a professor at Notre Dame planned to file a class action suit on behalf of all veterans challenging VA’s rules. “So much pressure came down on the university” that the professor changed his mind, Marozsan said.

Beery has enumerated a number of differences between medical care in the VA system and private sector care. The VA system often requires veterans to travel a long distance for care, and the wait for service on arrival is “many times longer than in the private sector,” Beery said.

A veteran cannot choose his own doctor and must pay out of his own funds for a second opinion. The lack of a legal right to use due process in disagreeing with a VA decision or challenging the treatment methods in a particular case shield the cabinet level agency from accountability.

“Ted Bundy has more right than a veteran to have his case heard,” Beery said. Marozsan said he must have his case ready to present to the court by Feb. 1.

[NOTE:] The Supreme Court refused to hear the Marozsan Case and the issue was never addressed. Steve Marozsan still lives in South Bend, but he is in very poor health and unable to pursue the matter.

Jere Beery can be reached at; JEREBEERY@aol.com