Monday, February 25, 2013

Michigan, Snubbing its Veterans in their time of Need?.

These are my own words, ok? I am not used to writing these things. Be patient with me on this. I am trying to tell you what I see going on, and why it is wrong. 

You know I can under stand the need of the Michigan government to save money, given that it has been in a financial depression for over a decade.

Federal trade policies such as NAFTA and GATT have destroyed Michigan's manufacturing base, which supplied a good portion of the States revenue.  Combined with an ongoing drought that covers all of the Midwest states, and highly unusual winters, has helped to devastate Michigan's farming industry. Several major agriculture crops have been wiped out due to early thaws, not enough spring rain, and just plain bad seasonal changes that made raising crops difficult if not impossible. All of that combined means a bad financial statement.

The caring of our States Veterans is also effected by the downturn of the economy . The state cares for our veterans at 2 locations, one in the U.P. and one in the L.P..   The one in the LP is what I will concentrate on.

Now first, these veterans represent less than 2 percent of the states population. So it is not like we are talking about 4 million of them. Michigan is home to more than 650,000 military veterans, which is the 11th largest population of veterans nationally.

The Michigan Veterans home, located in Grand Rapids, was originally built because too many civil war veterans were being found in trashy poor houses thru out the state. The home was built to be self sufficient, and many of these veterans worked jobs at the home. Some worked in the kitchens, some on the farm, and others in various other departments.  I think I read in one report at one time there were over 2 thousand men at the home.  And, it was the 4th largest Veterans home in the Country. Until recently it could house 750 veterans.

The home has been updated and rebuilt several times over the decades since after the civil war when it was built. Today the oldest building is the north most, the Rankin building that was built before 1950, (I don't remember the exact date). It is 3 floors that hold the "non income and poor veterans", with a full time nursing unit on floor 1 and  what they call the Dormitory unit for ambulatory people on Floors 2 and 3. These are the veterans (both men and women) who may or may not have medical issues, but who can take care of themselves for the most part and medicate themselves as needed, an who do not need constant supervision.

The other 2 buildings contain full time nursing units that are separated by specialties.  There is a unit for people who are Alzheimer patients, and another that deals with dementia patients, and another that deals with Vets that cannot get along with any one and who like to fight everyone. And then there is the Court Yard, a 24/7 Unit where the veterans get extra supervision and are in lock down. It is the closest thing the home has to a jail. Most of these veterans in these units have service related injuries and their cost of care is fully covered by Federal VA payments, which are used to pay for the care of these veterans, at this State Ran Facility.

Yet other veterans who have no disability but want a place to retire, pay for their care with private pension money. They are the ones getting cheated, I think. Right now the home isn't even a good place to go and die at. And I am not even sure if that is due to the current administration (which I think is the wrong one for the job) or if it is due to some other reason.

I do know a few things:

Although Michigan has the nation's 11th highest population of veterans, the state ranks dead last in federal money spent per person on services provided through the U.S. Veterans Administration -- medical treatment, pensions, schooling, disability compensation, employment assistance.  In 2011, federal spending on VA benefits for the typical Michigan veteran was around $3,900, while the national average was over $5,500.  Fewer than 20% of Michigan veterans receive benefits.

Now somewhere between the Governors office in Lansing, the Congress in Lansing,  and the Administration office in the main hall at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, it seems they forgot why this home was built.

To take care of our wounded veterans and give the poor veterans a place to live to avoid having to be in poor houses, and in some of these mens' cases, to help them get back on their feet.  Someone forgot that part completely - either that or they are intentionally ignoring it, or they simply don't give a damn.

In today's world where the economy in Michigan is so bad, the Dorm unit is needed more than ever. But the Veterans home is kicking guys out left and right and not helping them. If anyone has been watching the Dom unit, they would think that the Administration is trying to shut it down.  The unit once held about 175 guys and 4 women, and now is down to just about 50 people. 

In Lansing, the Governors office is trying to save the state money. Self made millionaire Governor Rick Snyder decided to privatize the health care workers at the home, replacing the state workers to save money. These are not the medical staff but the nurses aids who wipe noses and butts, change diapers, bedding, and basically get to do all the crappy work that a Nurse doesn't have to do.

A Michigan State employee got paid about 15 an hour, plus benefits. Under privatization, the workers will get about 10 dollars an hour and NO benefits . The cost of living in Michigan just to break even is 12 dollars an hour.  The company that "won" the contract, has a history of being a poor performer, and having a high turn over rate, and high abuse rate.

Now I saw where one of the veterans tried to stop the change over.. and where the states workers union posted a series of abuses already suffered by the veterans by the new Private health care workers.  The fact is, it doesn't matter who is giving the health care, and for what price, as long as they do the job and Do in fact, care about our Veterans.

When my dad first came to the home in 97 the quality of life was nice. They had lots of activities for the guys. Dad really liked the camaraderie, being able to talk with fellow vets, exchanging war stories.  And food was good too, better than I expected.

But that was then, and this is now. Dad is now wheelchair bound, and I fear on his last days.  The food quality is poor, usually served cold or at room temperature. The activities that once existed, no longer do. Dad spends a lot of time sitting in the TV room, just "rotting away" as he says, or waiting for some health care worker to help him do what he needs to do on a daily basis. He says he spends a lot of time waiting now, and hardly leaves his unit since there is nothing to do anymore outside it. Every once in a while he would go outside down to the nature trail located on the south side of the complex, or up to the duck pond, which is on the north side. And sometimes he would go out to the outside area by Cozy Corners, which is a public lounge area midway in the buildings of the home, where they sometimes have cook outs and play bingo under this big open area with a roof over it. But not anymore. This last summer he went out just twice - and I took him out one of those 2, to see my new truck and our family name on the company logo. Either way I see the level of care and quality of care and quality of life for these veterans being reduced to the point where many have surrendered to the idea that they are there simply to wait to die and have lost all hope.

Now I am told that the Dormitory unit is also suffering. That the people in the Dormitory unit are not getting the help they need. No counseling, no mental health, no physical therapy for those who have medical issues and need it. I was also told by several of the guys over there that one particular nurse, Kathy, has called them inmates on several occasions, because she came from the state prison system.

From what I read about the Veterans home, it is these people that the original home was built for. The men who are poor but able. The men and women who are in the dormitory unit, supposedly are there for a time out, so that they can step back, and regain control of their lives, and then with assistance if needed, rejoin society.  Yet I am told that they are not getting the help they need and are being thrown to the street.

 I can understand the State Governments need to save money, to do more with less, in this kind of economy, but you can do more with less without sacrificing the quality of life for the people involved. This requires a team effort. I am told the people of the dormitory unit have made numerous suggestions to help make life better for all veterans, and to help save money, and their voice is not heard, or ignored. In fact several of the men from Dom unit sat with me in the park and told me that they have no voice in the homes administration. That they have tried to make suggestions and stuff, and nothing ever comes of them.  So they stopped talking and trying. David told me that they held meeting with one of the kitchen staff and made suggestions that would not have cost the home 1 more dime -  yet no changes ever were ever made. The one Female veteran on the dormitory unit, who is also a minority, told me that it got so bad that the veterans stopped going to the staff meeting where they did try to bring about these positive changes. And that now, few if any of the veterans from Dormitory unit go to them.

 But again that may be because where there was once nearly 200 people living on 2 floors, there now exists only about 50. The rest have either left or been thrown out according to Kevin, who is a step son to one of the men on the dormitory unit. Now part of this may be the result of the veterans themselves pushing to get more living space. Right now they have about 8 feet square, big enough for a bed, dresser and a small table. There were 4 of these in each room. The veterans pushed to be allowed to use the unused space for storage of personal items in plastic boxes or totes. I am told that now, it seems the rooms have gone from 4 man to 2 man rooms as a standard. But only in the Dormitory unit.

Many of the veterans in Dormitory had drinking problems, and were not being offered any help. Others had mental issues an the home didn't even offer any kind of group therapy or counseling. Counselors were assigned to each unit, but what their real function was, is any bodies guess.

Despite that, it did not prevent the men from trying to make things better while they were there. The veterans had a member council that met once a month. Both Veterans and Staff members attended. But it was clear to the veterans, that with this new administration, came a deafening silence - they had no voice. The staff members attended meetings and suggestions on how to improve things were mention and nothing was done about the suggestions.

The staff told the men to use incident sheets, these yellow colored sheets to report things, and the guys flooded the office with them. Little if anything was ever done about the issues. The meetings became a glorified complaint session and veterans stopped going to them.

Today the people in the dormitory unit Tell me that its a warm place to sleep, and you get enough food,  to keep you alive. Beyond that, its no better than being in Jail and it is better than being in the gutter on the street.

The Guys in the nursing  units tell me its nothing more than a place to go and die. 

At a time when our veterans need us the most, is THIS the Best the people of Michigan can do for them?

- My thanks to Mac for putting this on his blog.

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