Saturday, October 23, 2010

Grand Rapids Michigan Home for Vets: Victimizing Veterans?

Does The Grand Rapids Home for Veterans need to be investigated by both State and Federal law enforcement officials for committing criminal acts against the very people they are supposed to be serving and protecting?

4 weeks ago, the latest adventure in my life started. I called an 800 help 4 vets number and got someone in WDC. The person there took my info and I was called by a regional rep. The regional representative called me and we talked for about 15 min's and he had me get in touch with someone local. This lead to my applying for admissions to the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.

To qualify you must be an honorably discharged vet with some kind of disability, however, being totally homeless with no income is considered to be a disability.

The home is overseen by the Federal Veterans Administration, is on State property, but is run by the State of Michigan. Right next door is a federal VA Clinic.

In my case, I was already getting medical care at the Clinic, when I found myself about to become homeless. So I called a help number which lead me to a regional person, who had me contact a local person and after applying, and getting some paperwork done, 4 weeks later, I am was accepted and am now a full time resident.

I had no idea what I was getting into. And now that I am here, I am starting to wonder if I would have been better off being a homeless street person.

Apparently there is a power struggle going on with the staff. The commandant is on medical leave and the temporary commandant is on a power surge. These people seem to exist to get their paychecks, never mind the quality of service they provide.

This last week was Veterans Administration inspection and this place was hopping.

Several issues were discovered. One was resident smoking. Technically this is federal land, being run by the State. Which law has priority? Under Michigan law, there is no smoking within 50 feet of any door. Yet the home was supposed to build a heated area outside for the residents who smoke - and this issue is over a year old.

Showers not being cleaned, a leak in the ceiling at one shower with an electrical fixture ready to fall from the ceiling is another.

Another was some residents with restricted diets going to the chow hall to get a meal, when they had one in their rooms - the ones in the chow hall gave them things they were not supposed to have. And the issue of these people going to the other buildings to get stuff they were not supposed to have, such as regular coffee.

But even more so, is the issue of payment for services. Many of these veterans are suffering from medical problems, some of which are service related. Others are medical conditions that have occurred since discharge from the service. I myself have a non service related heart condition that I am recovering from. Also, due to the economy, many have not worked in 2 or more years.

There are 3 groups of residents. The first group is the old timers that need constant attention like in a full time nursing home. They get assigned to one of two buildings located over the administrations offices and cafeteria. Then there is the group that is semi independent, but still needs some medical assistance, they are put in the Rankin building on floor 1. And last we have the independents. People who may have medical needs, but are 90 percent or more independent, and basically need access to medical care once in a while. These folks get put into Rankin building floors 2 and 3.

The cost here for basic room and board and medical services is 2300 a month, which includes all meals, medical services as needed, and you get assigned to a bed in a 4 man dorm room, which usually has one to 3 people max in them. Rarely do you see a full 4 man occupied room. Oh, and we have women here too.

The charge for our care, is determined upon our marital status, assets and income levels. A Veterans Administration check is awarded based on that information, and sometimes they also apply for social security disability status as well to cover the total costs.

In addition to this, (and this is the legal problem) the Home requires residents to give their permission for the home to open mail, and intercept any money or checks that come in. This is a direct violation of their own rules, which govern the home, yet they do it anyways, and may be a federal violation as well. Rubber stamping an intercepted check and depositing it into some account other than the individuals own bank account, might be a federal felony.

At issue is the collecting of money from various sources, then the taking of funds that come in the mail from the resident's mail.

For example, John has been here for 4 years. During that time he has had no income, no money coming in. The VA has paid for his 2100 dollar monthly cost. During this time he has been involved in a lawsuit against a former employer. Eventually John won, and a check for 14,000 was sent to him which the home then intercepted and cashed. John wanted to use that money to get an apartment and to leave the home, as his only reason for being here was being a bankrupt homeless vet.

John questioned where the 14k went? Did it go to paying for Future care, and if so, why didn't he get an opportunity to refuse such care? (thus getting back on his feet and on his own.) Or did the home use the funds to repay the VA for previous care? or did they just take it and dump it into the general fund to be used as they see fit, even after his monthly care bill was paid for by the VA? The Home refused to address this issue.

Many residents believe the costs for non medical required personal should be no different than that of section 8 public housing. That meaning the cost is based upon income, and does not exceed 1/3rd of their income. And any extra resources the resident obtains, is for their personal use, with the encouragement to get back to living on their own, and into the work force.