Friday, March 22, 2013

GRH4V: Time for a Reality check.

I'm writing this blog entry not to be critical of the current situation at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans. It is being written to show what people perceive that home to be like, and what it actually is.

Grand Rapids Home for veterans is (maybe was) the 4th largest veterans home in the USA. At one time in recent history (last 10 years) there could have been 750 people living there. Now, its down to about 400.

At first glance, the average person in Michigan would think the facility is for veterans. The fact is, its being run as if its just a place for state workers to finish up their 30 years of public service so that they can retire without loosing any benefits, like most other workers in the private sector have had to deal with.

What the average person does not know about the home, would fill a whole book. There are over 3 main housing buildings. Each has 3 floors with the center one having a 4th floor that is currently shut down. That 4th floor is supposed to be being renovated, but no work is being done to it at this time. It was in reality, shut down to save money (costs to the state).

This is supposed to be a home for the veterans, but unlike a normal retirement home, the mailing address for the home is not recognized as a valid address. In fact, the US post office does not deliver mail to the home. An employee picked up the mail, from the post office, once each day. That mail is then sorted, and gone thru by either employees or volunteers. Do you know of any other institution that does this? I am told they do this at prisons. 

There are over 13 different "units", in these 3 buildings. Each unit specializes in a particular type of care needed for the veteran who is assigned to that unit.  There are 2 main groups of veterans here. Those needing nursing care or health care constantly. These guys are in the "nursing units" and represent the majority of the veterans there. And there is the 2nd group, the guys who are ambulatory who don't need constant nursing care or assistance. They live in the Dorm Unit, or "dom".

As far as cost of care is concerned, most veterans don't have a clue about who is paying what and how much, for their care, as the home does not provide monthly statements that can be read and understood by veterans, showing them where the money comes from for their care, and where it went to.

In other words, how much money came from Pensions, or what ever source, and where it was applied. Was it applied to their medical, or basic housing costs?  The veterans just are not informed of this information.

In the Dom unit, most people are in one of two 2 financial groups. Income people and non income people. Those with pensions, or disability payments, either from the VA, Social security or insurance companies, are considered to be income veterans. Those with incomes, pay for all or part of the cost of care. They are allowed to keep 100 dollars per month for their personal use. And the rest goes for paying cost of care.
The basic cost of care for Dom unit people is 2100 per month. But it can be higher, if they are also charged medical costs.

Then there is the Non-income people.We are not sure who exactly pays for them. Is part of their costs paid for by the VA, and part by the Michigan veterans Trust? We do not know as the administration will not tell us.  But we do know they are given 5 dollars a week for personal use, or 20 dollars a month.

Guys in the Nursing units, cost of care varies, depending on the individuals needs.Costs can range from 2100 a month to as high as 6,000 a month. It all depends on that veterans financial status, level of disability, and and disability rating by the VA. 100 percent service connected disabled veterans get their care paid for in full by the federal VA - or so we are told.

Every member in Dom unit has a Nutritionist and a counselor assigned to them. In the 2 years I was there, I spoke to my Nutritionist once, and the counselor twice. Never got any real counseling. In fact, the counselor job at one time, was to kick people out for rule violations. Then they took that power away from him. I see on the Michigan state website, he makes over 70k per year for this job.. Wonder what he does to earn it? Oh, and there are 3 Nutritionists and counselors assigned to the Dom unit.

The home provides 3 'meals' a day, and on average, 72 square feet of semi private living space for each veteran. That is an 9 foot by 8 foot area, surrounded by a curtain. This area contains a bed, dresser, and a small table or some other piece of furniture.  Most rooms are 3 to 4 man rooms. Some rooms are single, and over in nursing units, some rooms are 2 person rooms, which should be the standard now. They also have a small closet area, for clothing that needs to be hung up.

In Dom unit, most rooms are 4 man rooms, with 3 to a room. A few rooms have 4, but I am told since December of 2012, they have reduced the units population and most guys now are in 2 man rooms. I am told a lot of guys left or got discharged (many against their will) between September and the end of December of 2012).

The home was originally created to give Civil war veterans who were found in poor houses, a place to live. Back then the home was self sufficient, and many of the veterans living there participated in the upkeep and maintenance of the home as well as working on the homes Farm which supplied it with food. 

Today Veterans do not participate in any of those activities, and the only farm work done is what is done at the greenhouse, and is accomplished by volunteers.

So what is the modern day purpose of the Home? For some guys in Nursing units, its a temporary stay until they stabilize after major medical, and then can go home and move in with family or be out on their own. 
For others, it is the last place they will ever live. It is their retirement home where they will spend the rest of their years. It should be enjoyable, or as enjoyable as we can make it.

For the Dom guys, that is a bit more complicated. Most of these people are guys that need "a time out", to get their lives back together. Many have hopes of returning to the community. A few however, are there by court order and like the retirees, are there until they move on to the next reality.
Some guys in Dom are there because of the economy, and would otherwise be living on the street. Some for economy and medical reasons, still others due to need for mental health care, or for drug or alcohol addictions. Oh and a common theme here, is you needed to be flat broke financially or be living below the poverty line to qualify to be able to be here.

Today the Dom unit is nothing more than a glorified flop house. Guys there get basic medical, (a doc comes in twice a week for sick call). They have a nurse on duty for about 16 hours, Monday thru Friday. Sometimes on Saturday.  No mental health help, no addiction help. Just a place to sleep, and what they call 3 meals, a day.  They get little if any help when it comes time for them to return to the community. In fact many don't even get that chance - they get discharged against their will, long before they are ready to return to the community.  I dare say they have a 5:2  "Kicked out" Verses  "Returning to community" ratio.  They are NOT helping these veterans. Even the medical care, after a veteran has returned from major surgery is substandard.

Although the VA clinic is currently located right next door to the home, the fact is, the Home and the Clinic do not cooperate very well with each other.  Both are on different computer systems, so the Homes computers cannot talk to the Clinic's computers, and of course the other way too.

Remember, this home is ran by the State of Michigan, but it depends on Federal tax dollars to support it, so we are told.  Seems to me they would be working closely with the Clinic.

There is also, a lock down unit, for veterans who are misbehaving, or need constant attention for the safety of themselves or others around them. This unit is called the Court Yard, and is considered by many vets at the home to be the homes version of Jail. The vets are in individual rooms, have individual care givers, and are locked into their unit 24/7 and not allowed out into general population, until such time as they earn the right, and then they are let out only for short periods of time; for example to go to a bingo, to step outside for a smoke break. In some cases, a care giver will bring out a few of them to go to a function, such as the member council meeting, or special function in the APR room.

There is a chapel for funerals, and a place for the guys to go to church on Sundays. There is a physical Therapy room, a Barbershop, and downstairs in the basement of one building, a 2 lane bowling alley that is run by volunteers. There is no gymnasium or pool area. Outside, south of the complex is a nature trail, and to the north is an area called the grotto, that was made for the veterans, but which gets more use by people from the outside coming in and having wedding photos taken there. The grotto is in the north west corner of the complex, between the location of the old Commanders house and cemetery, and the Rankin building. The Grotto is part of the drainage stream that comes from 2 lakes further up the stream, and it dumps into the Grand River, just north of the Cities "Riverside park". East of the grotto is the duck pond, and beyond that, a marshy area, where the stream comes in. Crossing the stream and providing an entrance into the Veterans Cemetery, is a bridge that was usable until this past year. Now it is in need of repair and replacement and traffic is no longer allowed on it. The duck pond is a fishing pond for the guys, where they hold 3 fishing tournaments each year.

Also outside, in a building near the main parking lot, is were the American Legion Auxiliary Poppy program is headquartered. And in that same building, is the The Train Club, and the Bike shop, where veterans can get bikes to ride in the summer. A few specialty bikes have been donated to the home last year. In the oldest building on the property, that dates from the civil war, which is the old train station, is the Bait shop and the clothing room, where guys can go to get donated clothing. Both are manned by volunteers and one or two helpers from the Dom unit.  Located between the 2 above buildings is another building that holds 2 restrooms (men and woman rest rooms). Also outside, over by the Maintenance building is the green house.

Just east of the Clothing room and Bike shop buildings is a wooded area separating the home from the VA clinic. It has a number of picnic tables, and a band stand, and one basketball hoop. Beyond that is the VA clinic.  It is a nice quiet area, for guys to go and relax.

About mid way between the 2nd and 3rd main buildings, are 3 public areas. Just to the north of them is the chapel, and then the Rankin building. Of the 3 public areas, 2 are inside. A big, "all purpose room" (APR room),  is where the home plays bingo, hosts meetings, and Guitars for Veterans class, and other things. next to that is a lounge area called Kozy corners" where members can go and get coffee, popcorn, and donated sweet goods, such as doughnuts, ice cream, and such. Also, some members participate with their doctors permission, in the beer club, and are allowed to get 2, "three two" beers. Members have to pay for this out of their own pockets, as no other alcohol is allowed on the property. But that has never stopped the guys from getting it from other locations. Just 1 block to the north and east of the complex are party stores which are frequented by a number of veterans.

Just outside Kozy corners is a covered area called the Pavilion. A big open space, with a roof over it, it is used for picnics, and bingo in the summer time. Also located just north east of this by about 100 feet, is the outside grill area, where there are 6 huge gas grills. In the summer time, volunteers come and cook burgers and hot dogs, and sometimes steaks for the veterans.

Both Nursing units and Dom units have group meetings with members of staffing called "member council meetings". Each has a President and vice President. The Nursing unit folks hold their meeting in the APR room, and Dom unit holds there meeting in either APR room or one of the Day rooms on their unit.

Issues about the Home, the administration, the main dining room (the one located near the main entrance), the meals, lack of a service officer for the veterans, lack of voice for the veterans (they need a real ombudsman, not one that sits on the board of managers and who is never around for the vets), and other issues have been brought up at these meetings.

In Dom unit, at the direction of Gary Davis, who is the representative of Disabled American Veterans, the guys in Dom started filing incident reports on yellow incident report sheets. 3 months later, after over 100 incidents, only about 4 percent were ever addressed to the satisfaction of the veterans. So they gave up trying. I am told by the guys in the Nursing unit member council that they got the same results as Dom did.

In July of 2013, It got so bad, that one member in Dom, got up and said, "this has become nothing more than a complaint session, and is a waste of time because the staff does not listen to us, nor addresses the issues we bring to the floor. We might as well be talking to a wall."  For August and September, the number of people attending Dom unit meetings was less than 10 veterans, and at the time there were nearly 150 people in the unit.

Lack of voice for the veterans is a BIG concern. And that is part of the health care the veterans need. A lot of stress is being created by this issue. Veterans believe that several of their friends were kicked out because of their activism in being a voice for those who are afraid of being kicked out of the home. Those that have no were else to go, sit in silent suffrage, because they are afraid of being kicked out for speak out or standing up. Either that or they get drugged up so that they cannot do anything, let along speak out. The guys see it as punishment for "making waves."  Indeed, one Dorm unit Counselor is on record at a Dom member council meeting,  for warning the Dom vets, that if they speak out and make the place look bad, "the person would
come to regret what they did." It was a direct threat to the veterans, many whom have faced death for this country. And yes I am talking about the one they call Dwight.

One of the reasons veterans in Dom get kicked out is because of drinking, and they drink in part because they are stressed out. No help is given to them. These guys need counseling and they are not getting it, so why have counselors assigned to them? What is the purpose of the counselors if not to help the veterans? This is wasted taxpayer money.

Another problem Nursing unit veterans face, is the Double teaming of Counselors and outside "guardians". What the people of Michigan don't know about the guardian laws, is that they have tried to overhaul those laws several times in the last decade, and they still need to be overhauled.  The guardian actually enslaves the veteran once the courts have issued the order to impose guardianship upon a veteran. Abuses by guardians go unchecked and the guardians and counselors are never held accountable. This is also a very big issue that the home refuses to acknowledge.

While in the military, veterans are taught that "when you are on duty, you are responsible for what happens in your area." In other words, if its your watch, you are the one that is responsible.  And since about July of 2010, that responsibility falls on Sara Dunn, current administrator, and the Government of Michigan who has allowed her to move from the head of the kitchens, to her current job as head Administrator.

Since the time she took over, the quality of life at the home, has steadily declined. Volunteers used to come in and hold bingos every day of the week, and sometimes twice a day. Many brought snacks of coffee and doughnuts or chips, cookies, Koolaid, and other things.. but due to one incident, all that was taken away from veterans.

Down in the basement of the southern most building is another activity center called the ITP room. This room used to be staffed and open 6 days a week. Now its lucky to be open 2.  Bingo's are down to about 3 a week, and its a rare treat for a group to bring in snacks and be able to issue them to the veterans.

Most activities have been on the decline. Several groups have been so alienated by the administration that they have stopped coming to the home.  Disabled American Veterans have all but left. Elks Club has stopped coming - and they used to donate a lot to the veterans. And that is just 2 of the groups that have stopped coming and donating. These people are the ones that made living at the home bearable. Now guys just sit around wasting time, waiting to die. Or in the case of the Dom unit guys, waiting for the economy to improve in hopes they will be able to work their way out of the place. 

Just read the pages of this blog for other concerns and things that have happened

Now recently I am told, (and have posted here) that they are now locking down the place at night. They are locking doors and windows. Guys who used to go out to the smoking tent area at night cannot do so anymore.

Yes that is another big issue. The home was supposed to get an exemption for the smoking law. See the posting on that. The fact of the matter is, the Home has a LOT of problems that are not being addressed by the current administration.

The reality check of the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans exposes this basic fact: The changing of the care givers on the Nursing units is only the latest of a series of issues that have caused a lot of the veterans at the home to loose hope, and to end up feeling abused and imprisoned. And has lead to a sharp decline in the overall moral of the veterans.

Note: If any of this post is wrong, leave a comment so it can be corrected. Be sure to tell us the correction as well. 

Revised 9:30pm March 22nd.

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