OFFE Extremely Concerned about Death of Two Veterans and lack of funding for VA Healthcare
By Staff Writer: Rick Townsend
November 28, 2006
One might think that if they were to have a medical emergency requiring immediate attention, ‘a hospital’ would be the first place to go.
Vietnam combat disabled veteran, Gene Simes is the national chairman for OFFE, a non-profit veteran’s advocacy group headquartered in Rochester, New York. Over the past year, Simes and OFFE members have been monitoring a number of incidents where veterans have been turned away from VA hospital emergency rooms. In at least two of these cases the veteran has died. According to Gene Simes, he believes many military veterans have a false sense of security about the VA healthcare system and services they provide
On April 24th of this year, 70 year old Korean War veteran Kenneth Baze arrived at the Spokane VA hospital in severe pain and extremely low blood pressure. The VA refused to see him. According to his wife Trina Baze they returned home hoping her husband’s condition would improve. However, about two hours later Mr. Baze collapsed and was rushed to Holy Family Hospital where he died from complications from an undetected aortic aneurysm. “The woman receptionist at the VA was very rude,” Mrs. Baze said. “I told the lady that my husband’s blood pressure was 70/40! What do we do? The receptionist said; ‘we’re to busy to see you right now, you need to come back tomorrow’,” Mrs. Baze stated.
In August, in another incident at the very same VA Urgent Care Center / Hospital, 72 year old Korean veteran, Leonard Kissner was refused medical care. Kissner fell unconscious in the Spokane VA urgent care center’s parking lot and was denied admittance into the VA hospital. However, this time Leonard Kissner lived to tell about it. “I needed immediate medical care and they had no one to take care of me,” Kissner told a local newspaper reporter.
In yet another VA Spokane Hospital incident on September 1st, 81 year old World War II veteran Lewis Pancoast was vomiting and in severe pain when he was turned away from medical treatment by VA medical center staff. The reason; He arrived after the hospital had closed. “The receptionist there put up her hands and said; “No, you can’t come in. You can’t get in here. You’ve got to go somewhere else,” recalled Pancoast. The ailing veteran then went to Holy Family Hospital where he was hospitalized and treated for an inflamed hernia.
On September 30th of this year, 83 year old veteran Clinton L. Fuller was very ill and in need of emergency medical care. Fuller’s minister and dear friend Rev. Eugene Singleton drove him to the Spokane, Washington VA hospital. It was a trip the two men had taken many times in the past, as Fuller was a registered patient at the VA and was receiving treatment from this particular facility. In a FBN telephone interview, Rev. Singleton said his friend slumped over onto his shoulder on the way to the VA, and he couldn't wake him. The two men arrived at the VA hospital about 4:35 p.m. Singleton ran into the VA urgent care center and yelled for help before returning with a wheelchair for his friend Fuller. A VA security guard came outside and said the medical center closed at 4:30 p.m., but 911 had been called. According to Singleton, there were still patients waiting to be seen by doctors in the main waiting room. “There is no doubt in my mind that there were doctors in the building,” Singleton said. "Unfortunately, this combat veteran who fought three wars was dying in front of the VA Hospital, and no one inside would help. I thought a professional person, no matter who you are, who has taken an oath to save lives, would help Deacon Fuller,” he added.
Paramedics arrived within about 13 minutes according to Rev. Singleton. Clinton Fuller was transported to Deaconess Medical Center, where he died an hour and 10 minutes after collapsing. “You have to understand, I had Brother Fuller at the front door of the VA and they refused to take him into the hospital and help him,” Singleton told the FBN.
Medically, the patient (Fuller) was handled
appropriately, said Joe Manley, director of the VA center, which had stopped
offering nighttime care and was now closing at 4:30 p.m. "The patient
arrived at our facility in respiratory distress," he said. "The most skilled
people we had went out to the patient, but you have to have the professional
equipment to do the work. The procedure Fuller needed would have required a
tube being put down his throat to help him breathe,” Manley explained.
The Spokane VA hospital, which underwent a $3.2 million expansion in 2005, eliminated the urgent care center's nighttime hours in July. Hospital officials said very few patients visited after 4:30 p.m. According to Rev. Singleton, they had no idea the hospital would be closed.
Mr. Simes said he is hearing more and more incidents where VA hospitals are refusing to treat patients under emergency conditions. Simes told the FBN that he feared years of budget cuts were now trickling down and adversely affecting emergency care offered by VA hospitals. “I would like everyone reading this article to imagine being critically ill or injured and going to a hospital emergency room just to be told it was closed,” Simes said.
These incidents have sent a chill through veterans all over the country. Many see this as a sign that the VA will be getting out of the medical care business all together. In fact, earlier this year the VA announced a list of 18 VA medical facilities that are scheduled to be closed in the very near future. OFFE is currently involved in efforts to keep Canandaigua, New York VA Hospital open.
Simes pointed out that he is very concerned about the growing number of veterans being denied emergency medical treatment at VA hospitals. “Spokane VA hospital may be the focal point of this article, however, the Department of Veterans Affairs is a national healthcare service provider. Whatever policies are implemented in Spokane can surface at any VA hospital in the country,” he said. “These issues dramatically illustrate the need for mandatory and full funding of the VA health care system. When we have hospital emergency rooms closing their doors at 4:30 in the afternoon - something is very wrong,” Simes continued. “Although I hesitate to say anything that may discourage veterans from going to a VA hospital for needed medical care, I feel a moral obligation to advise my fellow veterans to call 911 for all emergencies,” Simes added. Telephone answering system recordings at all VA medical centers give the very same advice.
Gene Simes and OFFE claim full funding of the VA healthcare system is the answer to many of the problems facing VA medical centers all over the country. “We are launching a major nationwide campaign to address this very important issue,” he said. Our objective is to get mandatory funding for veterans healthcare on the 2008 national election ballot in every state in the U.S.,” he added. “We are counting on our former military personnel and their families to help us do just that,” Simes concluded.
Secretary James Nicholson of the Department of Veterans Affairs could not be reached for comment.
For more information on “Operation Firing For Effect – Campaign 2008”, contact; Gene Simes (315)986-7322
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