Saturday, March 30, 2013

How to make Improvements for the long term, at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.

I know a lot of the posts here on this blog seem a bit negative. A few out right hostile. Yet some are positive and enlightening,  and are a joy to read.

Although this is one that may sound like a big negative, I truly hope that in the end it offers a positive outlook on the future of the Home.

First the Home's mission statement and why I think its a failure.

From the Michigan Government website, Grand Rapids Home for Veterans Mission Statement:

Our Mission: Provide compassionate quality interdisciplinary care for the members to achieve their highest potential of of independence, self worth, wellness and dignity.

Our Vision: Provide an environment that promotes meaningful quality of life by being a center of excellence in long term care.

Our Values: Strive to exceed our customer's expectations. Treat everyone with compassion, dignity, and respect. Each member, family, significant other, and staff services are valued as important resources. Recognize and honor all service to our country by the military, veterans, and individuals.

Part one. You need to understand that there are 2 groups of veterans at the home. The nursing care units, and the Dormitory unit. The "dom" as its called, is almost a totally separate group of veterans, and are treated differently than the Nursing unit veterans.  The Dom guys, are what the home was originally built for - to give homeless veterans a place to go so they wouldn't end up in poor houses that existed at the time.

In my case, the home failed to achieve the potential of independence, never addressed the issue of self worth as that is mental health which the home does not address as it has no staff to deal with such issues. They have counselors, but I really don't know what their main function is. My wellness was being worked on at the time of my discharge, and my dignity was destroyed by their lack of any coherent standard of policy enforcement. Since my incident was my first offense, I expected to be thoroughly chewed out and given 3 days out with a warning. 

The Vision, is one that is a work in progress and the sky is the limit for improvement under current conditions. Improvement is what the current administration desperately needs.

The values section - well, they didn't come close to exceeding my expectations, I was not treated with compassion during the last 2 weeks of my stay there,  and I was not treated with respect at all for the position I was in during that time.  Also I was not made to feel that I was an important resource. And since I have left the home, my name and character have been defamed by at least one staff member of whom I only talked directly to twice in my time at the home.

However, I will say this: The medical professional (doctor) assigned to my case is a good man, and one whom I have high respect for, as he truly cares. I did and will, only have praise for his attitude and professionalism. He serves as an example to the rest of the staff.

Also, I am thankful to the people of Michigan whom have provided this place for us veterans in our time of need. The problem is not the Home itself - its the people running it.

Now then. On to more positive things.

Part Two, how to make improvements for the future and the long run of the home, and for the benefit of the veterans and for the taxpayers who pay the bills.

So how do we improve things? Well for starters, lets establish the fact that the Home IS a home and get it recognized as such, like any other retirement facility. Have mail delivered by the post office. Establish a member post office, and hold people who work there, accountable. The home can get Dorm unit people to run the post office. Some were postal clerks in the Military, so why not use them, if they are willing?

Hold the staff or volunteers who go thru members mail, accountable. Require each to have a stamp that identifies them, and which has to be stamped on every piece of mail for a member that they open. Require them to give a photo copy of any mail whose original they keep.  Some veterans are past the point where they even know what mail is, so the mail handlers need to ensure the Guardian of the veteran gets that persons mail, and again, copies of anything the Home keeps.

As it stands today, the homes mailing address is NOT considered to be a valid home address for the people who live there. This has to change.

Second, replace the current administration with one of Veterans. Make it a requirement that the person filling the seat of the top job, or Administrator, also be a veteran. This does make a difference. Veterans are by their nature, different than most of the public, as many of us have witnessed, or been in high stress situations such as combat. How we perceive things, how we solve problems, our general attitude in life, was changed by our experiences in the military. My experience has shown me that only a veteran, has a true understanding of what its like to be a veteran.

Third, the home needs to remember its roots, and why it was established. In this time of budget crisis, the home needs to rely on itself for resources as much as it does the state. Using members to help out, could save thousands of tax dollars. Remember originally the home was self sufficient, and the work was done by veterans who were living at the home. Today members of the Dorm unit could be used by Grounds, maintenance,  Kitchen, and activities (as helpers on trips) departments, just to name a few. The argument that the state would become responsible; well for most of the Dorm's non income population, the state already IS responsible, or at least is paying for their needs, unless they get medical care from the VA Clinic or from the federal VA system. If the members are willing, why not put them to work and save some state tax money? At the same time, it would bolster the already sagging manpower levels at the home.

Forth, Establish an office for a full time service officer to assist veterans with getting their fullest VA benefits.

Fifth, establish an independent voice for the veterans, an ombudsman who is NOT a member of the staff at the home, a member of the Michigan department of veterans staff, nor a member of the board of directors. Also require that person to be a veteran.

Sixth, establish a proper chain of command and post it on each unit's bulletin board.

Seventh, Establish Disciplinary oversight counsel made up of members, staff and outside neutral volunteers that meets once a month.

Eighth,  Each unit has counselors. Lets see them do some counseling. Individual or groups of less than 10 people.

Ninth,  There is a problem with some of the guys assigned to the Dorm unit. For some government agencies, they are considered to be homeless, for others, they have a home as they have a bed at the Veterans home.
However, if you are a "homeless veteran" with no income at the vets home, you only get 5 dollars a week to use for your own use. If you have any kind of income, say from Social security disability or a government pension that does not cover more than the cost of your care in this unit, you only get to keep 100 a month. This makes it extremely difficult to try to return to society.  Especially in light of the fact that the home provides little if any help in relocating back to society. I have been told that the home has helped some guys with their first months rent or housing cost. However, if you are one who gets kicked out of the home for any reason, there is no help for you at all and one day you are at the home, the next on the street trying to find a place.

A veteran who has an income, but whom has already paid that months money to the home will get a partial refund, but it is very possible that the veteran will find themselves in a situation where they have no income  coming in for a period of up to 3 weeks. This is not good.

Tenth, The volunteer system needs to be restructured and oversight imposed. A system of checks and balances would do wonders. The need to track donations to make sure they get where they are supposed to go, is needed.

11th, computer system upgrade. Michigan system computers need to be able to talk to Federal VA computers so that veterans medical needs, and records can be used by both parties as many veterans still get some health care at the Clinic, or thru the VA hospitals in either Battle Creek, or Ann Arbor.  

12th. OPEN Internet for the veterans. A wifi system that is open to visitors who are visiting the home. We have been paying taxes for Internet access for schools and hospitals for over a decade, so why doesn't this hospital have it for everyone?

13th, a weekly or monthly web pages at the Michigan Veterans affairs website, showing the public, what the homes current need for volunteers and donations are. This way the home can be specific as to what it would like to see donated, and for what it needs volunteers for.

The home should not be a collection point for the 2nd hand store called "in the image".

14. The quality of the meals, and the main dining hall issues which have been addressed at member council meetings need to be acted upon and something accomplished.

15. Copies of all entry contracts, and anything signed by the veteran (or guardian) which resulted in the veteran becoming a member of the home, need to be give to all veterans (or guardians).

16. Monthly statements showing where funds came from and where they were applied, needs to be given to veterans on a bi monthly basis. Income people as well as non income people have a right to know who is paying for what, on their behalf or where their money is going.

17. Some veterans have told me that they are now being charged for care they previously did not have to pay for. When such a change occurs, for what ever reason, these veterans or their guardians need to be informed as to the changes, and why they have taken place.

18. Michigan guardian and conservator laws are a crime against humanity. This system has been in dire need of total overhaul and it is about time the Michigan congress addresses the issue. A veteran (or citizen) who is under the care of a guardian or conservator, is in fact, a financial slave with little or no say in the business of their personal affairs. Under current law the guardian or conservator can now lawfully ignore any and all input from the Veteran (or citizen). The conservator or guardian is only accountable to the court system. And that is not enough oversight.

Note, not all veterans at the home have guardians or conservators. Many do not. A few have them imposed by court order, others by family request, or have family members as guardians.

19. A number of veterans are at the home by court order. Several in the Ranking building in both Dorm and nursing unit (on the first floor of the Ranking building) are at the home by court order. The home is in effect, a prison for them, with little if any chance of them ever leaving it unless they die. This should be looked into by the Michigan legislature. I am sure several are there for their own good, and for good reasons by court decisions. But this is supposed to be a home, not a prison.

20. NO security in the dorm unit. Allow locks on the room doors, with a master key for staff members.
Currently dorm unit people have a locked drawer and a locked box in that drawer, and a locked stand up closet for their privacy. There is no reason why the doors cannot have locks with a master key available to medical staff, cleaning staff, and maintenance staff.  The Dorm unit has a nurse on duty during 2 shifts during the day, Monday thru Friday. Sometimes there is one there on Saturday. At one time they were staffed 24/7, with one nurse covering both of the floors that make up the Dorm unit, (floors 2 and 3 of the Rankin building).

Many of these suggestions were given to the administration during the time I was at the home, by the member councils.  The suggestions went unheard or unacknowledged by the staff and/or administration.

I will add more to this list, as suggestions become available.

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