Monday, April 30, 2012

Grand Rapids Home for Veterans: An advocate speaks out

This is a copy of a letter written by a man who is acting as an outside advocate for the veterans who are existing at the Grand Rapids home for Veterans.

Dear Senator.

Never has there been a time so urgent, so important, that we must determine who we are as a nation. As a citizen, I cherish the freedom that so many today may take for granted. Our forefathers set into motion the principals that have given us our freedom, but it is our Veterans that fought to preserve that freedom for generations. You and I enjoy a great life of freedom because of the price that was paid from the beaches at Normandy to the rice fields in Vietnam. 

There is a long standing attitude by some that has been around for some time. An attitude that when confronted, says "I am all for our Veterans" but behind closed doors its a different story. When these fine men and women went to serve their country, they didn't go because of politics, policy or public opinion. They served because they loved their country and had a job to do.

One Evening Mike Nelson shared his story with me. he said that the was in Vietnam and ended up in a bad firefight  where at one point he ended up fighting hand to hand. He lost many of his buddies in that battle. He said after that battle he was very sad to loose his close friends but he said "quite frankly I was glad to be alive!" He told me that he remembered after being discharged after fighting so valiantly he felt so proud to wear the uniform. After he got to the states, he hailed a cab. The cab driver got out, spit on him and called him a baby killer. Mike said: "From that time on, I could never wear my uniform again." Mike told me the fight and loosing his buddies didn't break him; it was that cab driver who spit on him that broke him. That night he was feeling like he did when the driver spit on him, because of the way he has been disrespected and improperly treated by staff and care givers at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.

I'm sorry to say that the horror stories at GRH4V  that have been said to be rumors or lies, are absolutely true. Administrators will tell you otherwise, but I am here to tell you I have seen this mistreatment first hand myself. There are veterans in the home that were POW's, those that suffer from amputations, mental disorders, and chemical distress. One night I sat with one of of our veterans as he moaned for hours because of the pain he was experiencing. I couldn't do anything for him. I wept for this man as I found a new respect for what I so often took for granted. I don't have to tell you that these great men and women of honor have given up so much so that they may have given us their special gift: The precious gift of freedom.

Sadly, most of the Veterans at the home, once they are at the home, stop getting visits from family members. For some, their first day at the home would be the last time they would ever see their family, as they were left to die here alone.

Certain staff and care givers have led an unprovoked and vicious attack on our Veterans. When a Veteran at the home is not allowed to see his sons or wife, freedom looses. When a wife is not allowed to take her own husband off of his ward, freedom looses. When $48,000 dollars is cleared out of a veterans bank account without any explanation, freedom looses. When A veterans is put in total lock down, treated like a prisoner for being "non-compliant", freedom looses. When volunteers are not allowed on the property because they tried to share what was going on at the home, freedom looses. When veterans are shaken profoundly screamed at on the top of the care givers lungs, left for hours in their own excrement, woken up repeatedly in the middle of the night for no reason, Freedom looses. If nothing changes, these attacks will continue because they are uncontested, or not made known to the people. When a man looses his life because another member is allowed to attack them,  Freedom is lost forever.

So  many good legislatures have toured the facility but unfortunately were steered away from our veterans and their voices were left unheard, and their concerns unanswered. Over the years, many important staff members, volunteers, programs, and privileges were all but taken away from them. The cry of the Veterans at the home went unanswered and WE forgot them.

I do not know whether it was Dale Weaver having maggots in his leg that prompted his getting more attention, I may never know. He told me that the sore on his leg had gotten more painful and that this whole leg was hurting badly. He told me " you should have seen it. The doctor at the hospital started at may ankle and squeezed up and towards the sore on my leg, and there were thousands of them popping out of there." Sadly, we lost Dale to complications three weeks ago. He died always hoping that he would see the day when the home would finally improve. He never gave up that hope.

Thank God that Mandy Bolter, representative Pete MacGregor and representative Nancy Jenkins came and for the first time, someone listened to the veterans. I can't begin to tell you how much I respect and admire Pete, Nancy and Mandy for taking the time. For the first time our veterans at the home had hope. Perhaps their sacrifices were not forgotten.

If you really want to know what is going on at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, ask Pete, Nancy, or Mandy, or come to the veterans home and talk to the veterans yourself. They know, they were there. And talk to the veterans away from the staff, where they may feel free to share with you, without possible retaliation.

I appeal to you for our consideration of  House Bill 5486, the Ombudsman Bill for our Veterans.  This is a great bill that finally gives our veterans a voice. It gives them a say in their own care. It allows them to tell someone without fear of retaliation, and gives them a fail safe process when they  have an issue that needs and should be addressed. No matter how great or small the issue is, if it is important to our Veterans, it is important. In the three years that I have been an advocate for our Veterans at the home, not a single major issue has ever been resolved for them. NOT ONE!. Quite Frankly: Shame on us!

That attitude that Mike Nelson and so many of our veterans have experienced is still here today. I see it in the home almost daily. there is a "white elephant in the living room" and it is time that this attitude changes. We cannot change the attitudes of the past, but as leaders in the community we can set up a precedent of a new attitude for today. And Attitude of gratitude for Mike, the Veterans at the home and the many veterans around the country who preserved our freedoms. And attitude that gives our Veterans priority over other issues that we are faced with today. We owe them that much. 

I have often hear that a marine will never leave his brother behind to die on the battlefield. They should NEVER be left behind. Nor on the battlefield, Not now! let them know that their sacrifice was not in vain.

The Ombudsman bill for veterans is a long time overdue. It is a great opportunity. Don't let these great men and women of honor die thinking that they have been forgotten, nor there sacrifices left unnoticed. It's time that this State and this Nation stand behind them and remember them not just in death, but in life.

Thank you for all your hard work. God bless you and god bless this great nation.

Sincerely, Time Sheeran, advocate for our veterans.

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