In May 2004, VA Secretary Anthony Principi accepted the decision of the Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) Commission to close the inpatient beds at our VA Hospital. The news triggered outrage and activism among area veterans and veterans’ groups. Our group, Veterans for Better Health Care, was born of that outrage and activism, and we have now been together for almost four years.
For almost four years, we have participated in parades, wrote letters, held a rally, and handed out thousands of flyers – all with the goal of keeping our inpatient beds open. When a new study was announced based on updated and more accurate information, we had hope that our efforts were going to pay off.
In November 2006, the firm of Booz, Allen & Hamilton came to Fort Wayne and held private hearings as well as a public hearing to gather our thoughts and input. They returend to Washington, D.C. to prepare their report, and we breathed a sigh of relief. We actually dared to hope that we had been taken seriously and that Booz, Allen & Hamilton would provide a fair report that would be presented to the new VA Secretary Jim Nicholson.
We were told that the report would be ready in about six months which would have been May 2007. So we waited, and we waited. May came and went. Summer rolled into fall, and we received more discouraging news – Secretary Nicholson was leaving and a new secretary would be sought. More delays. Supposedly the report was “on the desk.” But if it was, it was buried under piles of bureacratic red tape.
The new secretary, James Peake, was nominated and confirmed by a unanimous vote of the Senate. Still no report. Then, out of the blue, an article appeared in the Journal-Gazette in February that another study would be done. This one would be of the outpatient resources at our VA Hospital. Another study? The taxpayers already have footed the bill for $530,000 – half a million dollars – the price of the November 2006 study by Booz, Allen & Hamilton.
Something is wrong – very wrong. The Journal-Gazette filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get to the study, but it has been met with a disingenous attempt to hide it by redacted – marking out – three-fourths of the document. The table of contents was even marked out.
Enough is enough. The Bush administration and the Veterans Administration are playing fast and loose with the health and care of our veterans. Perhaps this is simply a game to them. Years have now gone by with no resolution of the inpatient bed issue at our VA Hospital. Our area veterans need this hospital, and they have earned this hospital.
Disheartening, disrespectful, disingenous, but most of all disgraceful. Every citizen in this area – veteran or not – should be hopping mad that the government is treating us with disdain. And one more “D” word – determined. We are determined to keep this alive, and we are determined to hold the government to its promise to provide health care to those who served our country. For us, that means keeping the inpatient beds at our local VA Hospital.