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Revamping Local VA Hospitals

Wednesday, August 13, 2003 at 11:58 AM

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Members of a federal commission looking into revamping the Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities were in Cleveland yesterday. The commissioners heard testimony from Veterans groups and others concerning the proposed consolidation of two area VA hospitals. ideastream's Bill Rice reports.

Right now the Department of Veterans Affairs operates two in-patient care facilities in Northeast Ohio. One is in Brecksville, the other is in Cleveland’s Wade Park Neighborhood. Under the consolidation plan the Brecksville facility would be closed. To compensate, a new $100 million addition would be built on the Wade Park Campus. It’s part of a nationwide plan developed by the CARES commission - CARES standing for Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services. Raymond Vogel is the group’s vice chairman.

Raymond Vogel: This is the most comprehensive look at VA health care today, and for ten years and twenty years out, that the VA’s undertaken. And it’s really a complete national plan.

The commission recommends mergers like that proposed for the Brecksville and Wade Park facilities in cities across the country. Vogel says it will eliminate a great deal of redundancy, and save millions in staffing and building maintenance costs. It will also cut down on transportation time expenses. The commissioners say all programs and services currently available at one or the other facility will continue to be available - just under one roof.

A number of veterans’ organizations testified they generally support the consolidation. But there are concerns. Jim Eddings, with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, told commissioners he wants the VA to make sure the merger would adequately address homeless issues.

Jim Eddings: As far as the local areas homeless programs and homeless programs in Ohio, we’ve got a lot of veterans underneath bridges and outside various establishments and living outside.

Eddings says homeless veterans are currently under served, and the plan does little to expand VA homeless programs.

A number of veterans in the audience - who were not asked to testify, say they’re against the move. John Coslowe is a Vietnam combat veteran who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A resident of Olmstead Falls, Coslowe gets treatment from the Brecksville VA. He likes the convenience and relative safety of the facility, and dreads having to travel to the city.

John Coslowe: Brecksville’s for mental patient people. You take mental patient people and move them to the city, they hear gunshots, they hear sirens all the time. You’re supposed to be in a safe environment. You’re not in a safe environment up here in Wade Park Brecksville, you’re safe.

Coslowe also worries that even with the new Wade Park addition, some therapeutic options won’t be available.

And there’s other opposition. Congressman Sherrod Brown, who did not appear in person but did submit written testimony, decries a shortage of health care availability for Americans in general. He feels VA services are restricted to too few veterans and those who can get them have to pay too much. And there’s James Fell, Executive Director of Cuyahoga County Veterans service Commission - not affiliated with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Fell says long term nursing home facilities for veterans in Northeast Ohio are in too short supply and have long waiting lists. Many, he says, are running out of time.

James Fell: Our need is right now. Our WWII veterans are dying at about 1,300 a day nationwide. So their need is right now. The Korean War veterans - we just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the end of the Korean War. Certainly there’s a large number of these veterans that need it. The Vietnam era cohort is aging.

Commission members say they realize that moving care and facilities currently available at Brecksville to Wade Park will be an inconvenience for some. But, they say, the savings the merger will bring is necessary. As for long term nursing care, CARES Commission VP Raymond Vogel admits that’s a problem - but one to be taken up another day.

Raymond Vogel: The VA has yet to put forth a plan to deal with long-term needs nationwide, the reason being that the provision of long term care has been changing. There’s been a tradition of nursing home care, and then the VAs, like the rest of America, has embarked on home-based care and care in an outpatient clinic and adult day-care.

Vogel says the entire realignment of VA facilities is being done in stages. Long term care will be addressed in the next round, he says. That’ll likely begin next spring. In the meantime the CARES commission will make similar trips to nearly three dozen cities over the next several months, and will issue its recommendations for this stage of the realignment to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi in November. In Cleveland, Bill Rice, 90.3.

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