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Veterans voice further frustrations with VA hospital system

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - 7:25 am

National American Legion task force members seeking feedback on improvements at the local VA hospital returned to hear continuing complaints about care at the facility.

About 50 area veterans met Tuesday night with task force members at Legion Post 148 on Lewis Street.

The visit was a follow-up to a meeting in December that was supposed to be on women's health care, but it became a forum for concerns about VA's Fort Wayne medical center, 2121 Lake Ave. At that time, veterans cited short-staffing and slipshod communication that made for long waits and frustration.

The task force had promised to follow up and they had. Tuesday night , Ralph Bozella, chairman of the National Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission for the American Legion and the System Worth Saving Task Force, and Jacob Gadd, deputy director for Health Care for the American Legion's Veteran Affairs and Rehabilitation Division in Washington, reported on the progress they found being made at the VA Northern Indiana Health Care System facility and asked the veterans for feedback on what they currently experience with the services at the facility.

The VA had announced Oct. 23, 2012, that it was temporarily stopping inpatient care at the Fort Wayne facility. Administrators 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 had told the task force in December. 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.

Starting with a gradual resumption of services, in four phases Fort Wayne's VA hospital has resumed its services. One of the improvements they were supposed to have made was in communication. When Gadd asked veterans if they had noticed an improvement in that area they only had stories of frustration to share.

“It's crazy what's going on over there.” veteran Tom Emerick said.

Emerick, who suffers from a litany of medical problems including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, told of sitting for eight hours in the VA emergency room before he was finally sent to Parkview Regional Medical Center by ambulance for treatment.

Clifford F. Buttram Jr., the financial officer for Post 148, asked Gadd why, in a city that has two state-of-the-art hospitals, couldn't the VA hospital be brought up to the same standards as those facilities.

Gadd said the hospital is just trying to work on the internal communications, staff leadership problems and understaffing issues to help it treat patients with the same organized and speedy protocol as the area hospitals have.

Buttram also wanted to know why Denise Deitzen, current director of VA Northern Indiana Health Care System, was not at the meeting. He was told by Sheryl Grubb, a spokeswoman with the health care system who was at the meeting, that they had only found out about Tuesday night's meeting several days ago and the director's schedule is always booked two months in advance.

“I have been listening and taking notes and I will be taking your concerns back to the director,” Grubb said at the end of the meeting.

Grubb also told the veterans that they have not built a facility because they were denied the grant money they needed for construction. She reminded the veterans they are leasing and renovating a space in the old Parkview Hospital annex for a new mental health facility and they have recently installed a new MRI machine at the VA hospital. Other improvements have been cosmetic, and they have been working monthly on leadership and organizational skills, as well as designing new protocol for each department to follow to streamline patients' wait times before treatment.

The American Legion task force promised to follow up on all the concerns brought up by veterans at the meeting.

Al Mozena, a rail-thin Vietnam veteran, stood outside the post after the meeting smoking a cigarette. He pointed to the brick wall of the building.

“See how the wall of the post is built from brick? They use 'stonewalls' at the VA,” Mozena said.

Mozena said the VA hospital is more than happy to dispense drugs and keep on charging what he deems an astronomical interest charge on payments, but getting basic services is difficult. Mozena said he had gotten a packet in the mail form the VA that told him of the services that were available to him. He said he called to schedule an appointment and seven days later he got a form in the mail saying services were denied.