News 12 at 6 o'clock / Friday, March 2, 2012
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- They spent their youth serving our country. Now in their final years, some local veterans say their country is failing them.
The Charlie Norwood Veteran Affairs Medical Center is giving the boot to some elderly veterans living in the Community Living Facility with short notice.
The Community Living Center is similar to a civilian nursing home. The description for Community Living Center on the United States Department of Veteran Affairs' website is: "Unlike many nursing homes in the past, a Community Living Center resembles 'home' as much as possible. There are activities for veterans of all ages. There are family-friendly places for visiting. Veterans are invited to decorate their rooms. Veterans may stay for a short time or, in rare instances, for the rest of their life."
Dennis Mattson, 67, is a disabled Vietnam veteran who has lived in the facility for over a year.
"When I got here, they said this was my home and that I would be here as long as I would need to be here or until I decided I wanted to leave, not when someone else decided I was suppose to leave," the former Airman said.
But recently, he says, someone else has told him he will soon need to find a new home.
"When we came back [from Vietnam], I was spit on. Now it feels after all we fought for, all we got when got home, from Agent Orange and now they have one more opportunity to spit at me before I go home for good," he said.
Mattson said doctors in the Community Living Facility recently started reevaluating patients a few weeks ago and have told some they needed to find a new home.
Bob Cruikshank, 86, was given only about a 10-day notice. He serviced as a Marine during World War II and as an Airman during the Korean and Vietnam wars. His doctor told him he needed to leave after a year and a half in the facility.
"I just think it is the most unjust thing that could happen to a man that has given his all," Betty Cruikshank said.
She says doctors told her that her husband was well enough to leave the facility. Mrs. Cruikshank says the VA gave her several options: to go to a private facility or to be put on a waiting list for the Georgia War Veterans Home.
"Assisted living is out-of-pocket expense and I said Blue Goose is not acceptable," she said.
Mrs. Cruikshank said she felt there was no other option but to have her disabled husband move back home with her. She herself requires a full-time caregiver and can only walk with the help of a cane or walker.
Dr. Tom Hartney is the director of geriatrics at the Charlie Norwood VA. He and his team are reevaluating patients to determine if they are well enough to leave.
"He [Cruikshank] is legally blind, has suffered from prostrate cancer and a disease that affects his balance and you guys determined he was well enough to go home?" asked News 12's Liz Owens.
"I really can't speak on any individual clinical condition of any veteran here," Hartney replied.
Hartney told 12 On Your side that his team evaluates patients in the Community Living Center on a weekly basis. However, he could not tell us the date of the last time they asked veterans to leave the facility.
"When is the last date that you've gone around and evaluated patients and told them that they need to make other arrangements? The last date this happened with a group of veterans?" Owens asked.
"As I said we have weekly team meetings and discharge planning is part of those meetings," he replied.
"When's the last time they have actually been discharged?" Owens asked.
"I wouldn't specify on a specific individual's case," he said.
The Charlie Norwood VA Public Affairs Office prohibited News 12 from interviewing the veterans who contacted our newsroom.
Mattson told us over the phone he where he is going to go. He is in a wheelchair.
"Maybe I can stay with my daughter until my house is handicap accessible," he said.
News 12 contacted Congressman John Barrow about the VA letting patients go from the nursing home. He is now investigating the Community Living Center.
"I appreciate you shining a light on this issue because a lot of folks don't realize how the VA is rationing care in this way," Barrow said. "If anybody has any concern that someone will be put out on the streets, that will not happen on my watch."
Barrow is urging veterans experiencing similar problems to contact his office in Augusta. He has staff members on hand with resources to intervene. You can contact his office at (706) 722-4494 or toll free at (866) 890-6236.