Sunday, March 20, 2016

Advocate speaks out against American Legion Spokesman Mark Sutton

I am so outraged over comments the American Legion Representative Mark Sutton made that I took a couple days to cool down before replying. 

I do encourage you to report Mr. Sutton's inexcusable behavior to his superiors. And, if he did speak for the American Legion as he claimed, AL is totally out of touch with the reality of the situation at the Home.  To end three weeks of intense and horrifying testimony with comments implying the situations at the Home are not as bad as reported, was the same as saying every witness before him was a liar.  That is untrue and unacceptable.  In reality, he is the one who was disconnected to reality. 

Residents of the Home and I who were present at all the hearings are beyond angered and livid over inappropriate, unsubstantiated, inaccurate comments attributed to the American Legion Rep. Mr. Sutton.   When he implied he spoke for residents he has never met, he seriously outraged the Home residents who were present.  Some said they had no clue who he was, he did not routinely visit any of them and he had no right acting like he was speaking for them when he rambled off a list of things he wanted. 

As one resident told me on the way back to GR, "If Sutton's statements do represent the position of the American Legion, the AL is so grossly out of touch with the real happenings at the GR Home for Veterans they should be ashamed of themselves.
Maybe they should stick to parades and ceremonial events...leave the real issues to people who know the facts and give a damned about us and our fellow veterans."

It was Mr. Sutton who made uneducated statements, threw out false numbers (like $200,000 needed for a position that has not been approved nor has a cost been determined) and supported the very Board of Managers which is highly culpable in this situation.  He appeared to the residents and I to be completely unaware of the documented abuses and rights to speech, assembly and representation stripped from the residents by the very Board of Managers he painted as victims of unjust dislike by a few disgruntle residents.  The fact is well known that those very same BOM members he defended stopped the residents from meetings they planned with their own legislators -- even legislators testified to that point.  BOM denied veterans their rights to free speech, assembly and representation - that is what these hearings were about. 

There is such lack of communication between BOM members that had Mr. Sutton attended all BOM meetings, he would have known how heated the meeting became when BOM members from up North argued with those in GR for failing to communicate, especially important issues like licensing and closing of the Cafeteria.  

They were angered when they only learned of major issues from reporters and when they learned the cafeteria was not closed only for an inexpensive license.  It was actually closed because rodents had overrun the kitchen and cafeteria, a bug zapper had been placed directly above the food prep area and "dirty water" from sewer lines were backed up into the food prep areas, need major repairs and changes....and on and on. It was so bad National Guard had to bring in food. BOM from the North were outraged that GR Admin would not even answer basic accounting questions -- and now millions of dollars and property are missing on their shift.    Yet, to listen to Mr. Sutton, everything is fine.

Having worked daily for months with a team (residents, volunteers, caregivers, family members, friends, advocates...) who met with dozens and dozens and dozens of residents, LISTENED to resident stories and concerns, documented then verified facts, abuses and issues, we are beyond appalled by Mr. Sutton's inaccurate, misleading statements. These hearings were not a time to present guesses and unverified information, as Mr. Sutton did repeatedly. Or provide a list of things the residents need without talking with more of them. The rest of us stuck with facts and verified information hearings are for truth. We feel he should be charged with perjury

And the raving review he received from Holly Hughes was downright strange.  She is one of those who voted to let go of State workers and is, therefore, a contributor to this problem. If she has been talking with Mr. Sutton for five years as they claimed -- why have they not done more sooner??? Why have these issues only worsened? As Ms. Hughes said herself, talk is cheap.  We need someone with balls to clean up this mess, not tell everyone at the hearing "no one has a gun to his head" and say things are fine at the Home.  May not be a gun, but we documented far too many residents who are clearly being given drugs leading to death, crippled vets in wheelchairs taken outside and left to freeze in near zero weather, without so much as a coat; crippled residents in wheelchairs left in hot sun to dehydrate;  fed food prepared on a food prep area directly below a bug zapper on a floor with sewage water backed up -- sending many to the hospital with gastrointestinal problems and too many other issues and abuses; deadly misdiagnoses and overdoses by staff, giving black box drugs like Seroquel, Depakote and drugs like sleeping pills and Ativan to residents to put them to sleep to self-admittedly manage staffing shortages.  Mr. Sutton's ignorance on the real issues is only exceeded by his arrogance. If he sees nothing wrong with these issues, he has no right saying he represents the residents' voices.

Mr. Sutton ignorantly talked like all the problems started only with the last administration, totally ignorant of the horrors the BOM inflicted on residents.  Totally ignorant of the harassment, intimidation and threats made by those same BOM members he covered for. I was personally threatened by a BOM who said he would "tear you to pieces for including my name in any report."  I was personally told to never speak with any legislator about the Home, that they "will hear only what I want them to hear" by one of the very BOM members.  When it became clear the AG and Gov. would only work with ill-informed leaders of certain veteran groups, we filed formal complaints with the federal OIG and V.A. Secretary and President Obama.  

They quietly began investigations.  We even involved the FBI re questionable deaths and abuses.  They addressed some of concerns in the two audits this year.  Those people only look into claims that have substance, as ours did and was.  We met with legislators with documented facts -- not hypotheticals like Mr. Sutton presented to the hearing legislators.  

We invited to Rep. Tom Barrett to visit the Home and meet with residents.  We helped him do what he called "a surprise sting" operation at the Home.  He was appalled that not one staff member acknowledged his presence or even said "hello" as he entered the Home in torn clothing.  He said it was like he did not exist as he walked the halls -- until he ran into a Board of Managers member surprised to see him.  He was saddened to see most residents walking or rolling with their heads down, seemingly afraid to make eye contact with anyone they met.  He was given a tour of the Home by a resident, from that resident's perspective. I recall that day being led to a sunroom that was packed with dozens of veterans in wheelchairs, dying residents in beds that were rolled in, packed so closely it was hard to move, no tv on, no food coming...just sitting there unable to move.  The smell of unchanged diapers was overwhelming.  They all just sat or laid there, staring down at the floor, too afraid to even talk with each other.    I learned that day staff was short and that was one way they controlled it.  

After that, Rep. Barrett, at our request, not Mr. Sutton's, started the process to get these hearings held to eventually bring a hearing to the Home so residents could speak to legislators and be heard -- meetings certain BOM members and past Administration had stopped multiple times before.  Mr. Sutton seemed clueless that this was a major issue with residents. 

So, perhaps AL leadership can understand why we are extremely outraged that Mr. Sutton closed three weeks of intense hearings implying everything is fine at the Home. His statements implied the American Legion knows more about what is happening at the Home than the residents who live at the Home and came to Lansing to testify knew. So wrong.  He left those in the know thinking "American Legion appears clueless to the reality of the issues residents request help with."  Clueless as to the veterans found with maggots in their feet who died days later; clueless to the discomfort of residents forced to lie in their own excrement for long periods of time; clueless to the numerous calls for help that go unanswered; clueless to the number of cold meals residents get because there are not enough caregivers to feed them while food is hot;  clueless to the pain veterans suffer from bed sores caused by insufficient rotation again due to staff shortages; clueless to veterans who became ill and could not get outside second opinions (not even with the help of a congressman); clueless to the veteran who was denied help and only survived because he violated protocol and called for someone on the outside to take him to the nearest emergency room -- where he was immediately to admitted to ICU with a confirmed drug overdose administered by Home staff and told he was not likely to survive the night; clueless to the threats and harassment made against those who tried to complain or speak up; clueless to the head injuries  residents received in an area Administration failed to repair despite months of notices and requests; clueless to the veterans who are dying from neglect or turned away to live homeless nearby. Too many residents are silently suffering, humiliated and abused by overworked or under-caring staff. Yet Mr. Sutton implied these are all lies.

Let me tell the American Legion, the 80+ page report we sent to the OIG, gave dozens and dozens of documented abuses that happened to residents at that Home. We sorted fact from misunderstandings. We also included names, dates and photos to support claims. Yes, photos of mice in the cafeteria; photos of handicapped veterans who fell over and no caregiver was around, photos of neglect. Too much of Mr. Sutton's testimony was not even supported with accurate numbers or fact. Shame on him and the American Legion for undermining the hard work and effort of those who presented facts. Shame on both for failing to help those veterans at the Home.
In his haste to promote veterans, he failed to acknowledge that some of the strongest, documented claims against the Home were inflicted by BOM members who were veterans who abused their positions. The worst injustice is they were veterans who harmed resident veterans. Yes, if we have multiple people applying for a job and the playing field is even as far as qualifications, etc., preference points should be considered. But it is because Board members have been chosen solely because they are a veteran, not because they are qualified, that residents were under served.   

How hypocritical it was of Mr. Sutton to tell legislators to visit the Home, when not one veteran present from the Home had ever met him.  

In closing, Mr. Sutton's comments were a stinging slap in the face to the residents, volunteers, caregivers, family members and advocates who spent months listening to issues, documenting abuses and worked hard to address them. If he truly represented the American Legion, as he claimed, that tells us the entire organization is grossly out of touch with the reality of the situations at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.  We find that appalling and shameful.  American Legion owes the residents at the Home a HUGE apology.

A Veterans' Advocate

Blog Ed: There were OTHER AL members at those hearings who did NOT wear their AL hats. And more than one American Legion person gave testimony that supported claims by Resident veterans who were at the hearings, and 1 former resident veteran, about how bad things were. 

Also is is my understanding that the Legislature is looking at returning the homes management back to the Dept of Health and Human services and eliminating the Board of Managers. Governor John Engler's experiment, I think, is a failure, and its time to end it.  -The Blog owner.

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