When about 50 veterans met with an American Legion task force Wednesday evening, they generally praised the care they received at Fort Wayne's Veterans Administration hospital. However, they said short-staffing and slipshod communication make for long waits and frustration.
“Ninety-eight-point-nine percent of these guys and gals are pleased with the care they get,” said Allen County Veterans Service Officer George Jarboe. “Their biggest problem is trying to get appointments,” especially for specialists or surgical procedures.
The meeting at American Legion Post 330 in New Haven was billed as a look into the care female veterans get from the Veterans Administration. But the recent interruption in inpatient care at the Fort Wayne VA hospital became the focus of the national Legion's “System Worth Saving” task force visit to the Fort Wayne area.
Task force chairman Ralph Bozella told the veterans at New Haven that figuring out the circumstances of the closing is the top priority in their visit here.
“What happened? When did it happen? What's their timeline for reopening?” Bozella said. “Any time a veterans hospital stops services, it's a matter of great concern.”
Besides the Wednesday meeting at New Haven, the Legion task force plans to visit the Fort Wayne VA hospital today and Friday, interviewing staff at the facility.
The VA announced Oct. 23 that it was temporarily stopping inpatient care at the Fort Wayne facility. On Monday it announced that inpatient care was being phased in again. No firm schedule for resuming all patient services has been provided. Administrators have said the closing gave facility staff a chance to review policies and practices in patient care.
The impact of the closing was inconvenience for some veterans and worrisome uncertainty for all, they told the task force. Some had to be treated at other area hospitals; others drove to the VA hospital in Marion, which is about 50 miles southwest of Fort Wayne.
Although veterans generally praised the care they receive and spoke highly of the employees of the VA hospital, they were frustrated by delays that they attributed to the facility being understaffed.
“I have no complaints about routine care,“ said Ed Klotz of Leo-Cedarville. But when he needed a prostate biopsy, he faced delays in getting the procedure done. “When I had that big scare, it was kind of rough for me,“ he said.
On Memorial Day, Dale Wilkinson of Fort Wayne felt unusual chest pain and went to the VA hospital, 2121 Lake Ave., where he was given a chest X-ray. The technician told him the X-ray would be read within minutes. Instead, he was told later, staff was waiting on a radiologist in Baltimore to read the X-ray. Six hours after he went to the VA, he was told the pain came from sinus trouble and he was sent home, he said.
The veterans agreed they had no warning of the October closing, apart from a few hints in rumor. After it closed, they were again left sifting among rumors and vague information from the VA. Now that the resumption of inpatient care has started, the communication is still spotty.
“We didn't really get any word on how long it would take,” Jarboe said.