16 MONTHS – A HALF MILLION DOLLARS – AND NO VA REPORT

Sylvia Smith has kindly uploaded the controversial redacted report about our VA Hospital. The report cost taxpayers $530,000 – over a half million dollars. And what does the public get? A 78-page report with three-fourths of it unreadable. Of the 78 pages, only 21 were released through an FOIA request by the Journal-Gazette. Of those 21 pages, about half were withheld in their entirety and others were subject to black lines through entire paragraphs.

The following is a refresher of what has happened over the past four years since the initial announcement that the inpatient beds would be closed:

  • May 2004 – Anthony Principi, Secretary of the VA announces the inpatient beds at the local VA hospital will be closed pursuant to a recommendation by the Capital Asset and Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) Commission decision.
  • August 2004 – Congressman Souder holds public meetings to address the issue of ending inpatient care at the Fort Wayne VA Hospital
  • August 2004 – Veterans for Better Health Care (VBHC) is established as a grass-roots organization to combat the closing of inpatient care at the Fort Wayne VA Hospital
  • August 2004 – November 2007 – VBHC participates in parades, writes letters, hands out thousands of flyers, and holds a rally at the World War II Museum in Auburn and is joined by the public in protesting the closing of the inpatient beds
  • November 16, 2004 – Anthony Principi submits letter of resignation as VA Secretary and steps down from post
  • February 1, 2005 – Jim Nicholson sworn in as new Secretary of the VA
  • July 2005 – VA Secretary Nicholson promises new study of Fort Wayne VA Hospital
  • June 2006 – Congressman Souder announces new study of Fort Wayne VA Hospital
  • September 2006 – Congressman Souder announces his belief that Fort Wayne VA Hospital has a “great chance” of remaining open
  • November 29, 2006 – BAH undertakes new study of VA Hospital and holds private meetings with various veterans groups in the morning and a public meeting in the evening -study to be completed and be on VA Secretary’s desk by May 2007
  • May 2007 – no BAH Study released
  • September 2007 – Final Report by BAH given to VA but withheld from release
  • September 2007 – February 2008 – no information on study forthcoming to the public
  • October 1, 2007 – VA Secretary Jim Nicholson officially steps down from position
  • December 20, 2007 – James Peake sworn in as new VA Secretary
  • February 2008 – VA announces another study of the Fort Wayne VA Hospital
  • March 2008 – VA refuses to disclose original report findings, skirting the disclosure by redacting three-fourths of the report

The February 2008 announcement that the VA would now contract for a follow-up study of outpatient services caught us by surprise. Focusing on the outpatient resources could mean one of two things – either the VA will keep the inpatient beds and beef up the outpatient care in an effort to provide better services to the hospital’s clientele, or the VA will discontinue inpatient care and use the facilities for outpatient services only with inpatient care contracted out to area hospitals. I certainly hope it is the former and not the latter.

The National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2008, which extends the registration period for the guard and reserves, as well as the modification of the VA benefits booklet to include the guard and reserves, makes closing our inpatient beds fly in the face of logic. With the increase in National Guard and Reservists coming home to northeastern Indiana, we need increased care not diminished care.

Photo Credit: National Guard website
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THE NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT OF FISCAL YEAR 2008

As I noted, two factors should work in favor of keeping inpatient beds open and increasing outpatient care. First, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of Fiscal Year 2008 signed by President Bush on January 28, 2008, extends the period of enhanced enrollment opportunity for health care eligibility provided to veterans who served in a theater of combat operations after November 11, 1998 – commonly referred to as combat veterans or OEF/OIF veterans.

The enhanced enrollment minimum duty requirements are as follows:

  • Currently enrolled combat veterans will have their enhanced enrollment period automatically extended to 5 years from their most recent date of discharge.
  • New enrollees discharged from active duty on or after January 28, 2003 are eligible for this enhanced enrollment health benefit for 5 years after their date of their most recent discharge from active duty.
  • Combat Veterans who never enrolled and were discharged from active duty between November 11, 1998 and January 27, 2003 may apply for this enhanced enrollment opportunity through January 27, 2011.

Second, the standard VA federal benefits booklet for veterans and their dependents has been updated to include those in the National Guard and Reservists, who previously had been excluded from receiving benefits based on past general eligibility requirements.

The 2007 Federal Benefits booklet limited general eligibility to discharge from active military service under other than dishonorable conditions. Active service meant full-time service, other than active duty for training. Under the 2007 guidelines, Guard and Reservists were not eligible for benefits.

However, the 2008 benefits booklet changed those requirements to read:

“A person who served in the active military, naval, or air service and who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable may qualify for VA health care benefits. Reservists and National Guard members may also qualify for VA health care benefits if they were called to active duty (other than for training only) by a Federal order and completed the full period for which they were called or ordered to active duty.”

The newly included reservists and national guard will expand the number of veterans who need services in all areas of the country. Indiana has more national guard members on duty than any other state in the Union and that includes larger states such as Texas and California. Many of the 4,108 members – 3,200 – now on active duty are from the 76th Brigade Combat Team located in Warsaw, Indiana. Those 3,200 members will come home to this area and will need care and services just as many others from northeastern Indiana now receive.

Northeastern Indiana not only has the highest number of national guard members on active duty but also is home to the 122nd Fighter Wing of the Indiana Air National Guard based at Fort Wayne International Airport. The 122nd Fighter Wing – known as the Black Snakes – recently acquired land for an expansion needed to absorb fighter jets and crews from Terre Haute, Indiana, and Springfield, Illinois.

Logic dictates that we should keep our inpatient beds. Yet the actions of the VA in withholding the Booz, Allen & Hamilton study do not fill me with a sense of security. We have spent 16 months waiting on a $530,000 study funded by the taxpayers which has resolved nothing and has created a sense of, once again, being bamboozled by the government.

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About Charlotte A. Weybright

I own a home in the historical West Central Neighborhood of Fort Wayne, Indiana. I have four grown sons and nine grandchildren - four grandsons and five granddaughters. I love to work on my home, and I enjoy crafts of all types. But, most of all, I enjoy being involved in political and community issues.
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