Thursday night, Congressman Mark Souder met with our small, grass-roots group, Veterans for Better Health Care. Our group was born back in August 2004 in response to then VA Secretary Principi’s announcement that he would follow a recommendation to close our inpatient beds here at out local VA Hospital.
About 10-12 men gathered to figure out a strategy to defeat the recommendation. The group’s chosen name was “Veterans for Better Health Care.” Although I am not a veteran, that was not a criteria to join the group, so I joined in November 2004 and found myself participating each month and getting to know the veterans who were members. We did have one overriding requirement – no matter what our political persuasion, we wanted to maintain bipartisanship and avoid political affiliations. Our issue was saving the VA Hospital inpatient beds: an issue that we felt should not be subject to our own political ideologies.
I became our Director in October of 2005 and am still in that position. I am extremely proud and honored to be involved with this group and to be its director.
Some of our first efforts at getting the message out to the public included writing letters to the editor and handing out flyers containing our message. In April 2005, we organized a rally which was held at the World War II Victory Museum in Auburn, Indiana. The Kruses allowed us to hold the rally without charging us, which was greatly appreciated since we were a new group and had no means of financial support other than passing around a “donation can.”
The Rally was a success and drew about 150 people. We had a number of guest speakers who emphasized the need to maintain our inpatient beds, and a newly returned veteran who had been injured in Iraq also spoke. We began to become more active in area events. One of our members had an old car that he decorated with various slogans and items. He placed a mannequin on the roof of the car dressed as an injured veteran. “Oscar” as we affectionately called him, always drew comments and cheers when we took the car to parades.
The Frankes also were good to us and allowed us to hand out our flyers at hockey games in February 2006 and February 2007. That venue gave us access to thousands of individuals as they left the arena. Although we might only gain a member or two from those events, every person who joined our group was greatly appreciated. We also began to identify ourselves by wearing caps with our name and slogan “Save Our VA Hospital” and donning t-shirts with the same slogan. We wore these items when we participated in parades and events.
Our focus in all of our efforts was to keep the inpatient issue in front of the public and to put pressure on our representatives. Our particular focus, however, was to pressure Congressman Souder on the issue. Thursday night was the culmination of our efforts.
Congressman Souder’s office had contacted me about a month ago to arrange a meeting between our group and the Congressman. Frankly, I was quite surprised to receive the call, but I was also excited to think that we would have an opportunity to talk to the Congressman about the recent flap over the redacted VA Study done by Booz, Allen & Hamilton (BAH).
I had been a participant in that Study – first in a private morning meeting with about 10 other veterans’ representatives and later attending the public town hall meeting held at the Memorial Coliseum. That day’s activities – November 29, 2006 – had been arranged by local veterans’ groups and BAH. We were told that the report would be done in about six months, which would have been a due date of May 2007. May came and went with no report. The spring turned into summer and summer into fall and still no report.
The call also represented a shift in how the Congressman viewed our group. In our earlier days, we were not exactly the most welcome sight at parades and events where both the Congressman and our group appeared. When we appeared at town hall meetings or smaller local question and answer sessions, we triggered increased tension. But with this contact, we felt the Congressman truly recognized our dedication and efforts over the 3 1/2 years since our organization. He was seeking our continuing help to fight for our VA Hospital inpatient beds.
The meeting went very well, and the Congressman spent about two hours talking to us in a small room at Post #82 – the location we chose because it was where our group began. The meeting started at 7:00 p.m., and, when I left at a little after 9:00, the Congressman was still talking to a few remaining individuals. Reports were shown on the local TV stations as well as provided in the local newspapers.
The bottom line to this is that our hospital inpatient beds are still not out of danger. The VA is doing a follow-up study on outpatient care and facilities. The delay may be beneficial, but we do not yet know that, so we cannot let down on our efforts. THE FIGHT IS NOT OVER.
As I drove home from the meeting, I kept thinking about my favorite Margaret Mead saying:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
We started as a small, grass-roots group with no funding. But what we had was an overwhelming concern for our veterans – past, present, and future – and their care. We put together a plan of action and kept fighting. We still meet monthly, and we still make plans to participate in area events. Now that the weather will be turning nicer, we will be able to get back out to parades and events. We will not give up this fight, and we ask that you not give up either.
Congressman Souder’s office has scheduled a rally, and here are the particulars:
When: April 7, 2008 (Monday)
Where: World War II Victory Museum, Auburn, Indiana
Time: 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Please help us once again have a successful rally in support of our VA Hospital. Do not take anything for granted. We have many veterans returning from the Middle East who will need our help and support, both in the hospital surrounding and in the community surrounding.
Please make plans to attend this rally and let the VA know we have not forgotten this battle, and we will not give up.