Veterans are responding after the federal gov't moved to ban smoking at VA hospitals nationwide

Wednesday, June 26, 2019
News 12 at 6 O'Clock/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW) -- By October, smoking areas at VA hospitals across the country will be closed.

The Department of Veteran Affairs announced the decision a couple of weeks ago, but it now comes with both backlash and support.

"It will implement a new policy restricting smoking by patients, visitors, volunteers, contractors and vendors at its health care facilities by October," said the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs in a press release.

Smoking areas at federal facilities were closed in 2009. However, a law kept the areas open at VA facilities, including health care buildings.

Many veterans we spoke to at Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center say they are not happy with the decision.

"You got a lot of veterans that been smoking for years and years," said veteran Lonnie Nance. "Being a smoker just calms me down, you know?"

One veteran even said he feels left behind and that the VA is taking away the only freedom he has left.

But, Dr. Timothy Hall, Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center's deputy chief of staff, says the new measure is for everyone -- not just those who smoke.

"A lot of people feel very strongly about this," Hall said. "But our job is to treat the whole patient and the whole veteran and all their needs and issues."

That's why a few veterans we spoke to agreed with the decision. They say it may help them quit smoking because there are less places to smoke.

Some family members are still confused why a change was made now.

"They have already implemented accommodations, for smokers and then to turn around and say, 'Okay, well, no, we're not gonna let you use it,' to me that's not right," said Alene Jones, whose husband is a veteran and a smoker.

In fact, the Uptown Division of the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center built new air conditioned smoking shelters in the past year.

It's unclear whether those will be torn down or somehow re-purposed once the smoking areas are closed.

"It's not uncommon for us to see construction come out and then they'll say, 'Oh, well the next step's coming'," said Hall.

Hall says it was time for the VA to become current with the federal and local regulations placed on smoking. He's happy with the decision because it keeps everyone healthier.

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