Friday, April 22, 2016

Copy Of My First Piece About Fort Howard

In 2006, I published my first article about Ft. Howard. It tells some of what the place means to veteran patients, our family & friends, and the hospital staff. The article went all across the Internet. It was linked to or copied on websites owned by people from the hard right ex-military all the way over to the far left where the anti-everything government peace freak folks are. It was even linked to from a Department of Defense site. From all directions, I received emails of support, plus info about more of the same happening to other VAMCs across the country. This article was read well over 10,000 times.

Fort Howard, Maryland Veterans Administration Medical Center
By D. R. Crews
Mar 16, 2006 - 12:26:00 AM

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 nongrads. 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.

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