VA Announces Changes for Indiana Health Care Facilities
In a recent news release, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced several changes to be made in the way health care will be administered to Indiana's military veterans.
Four new community clinics, improvements to the Indianapolis medical center, and transfer of inpatient care from the Ft. Wayne medical center are part of a comprehensive plan by the VA to modernize its nationwide system of health care facilities.
"These changes will provide greater access to care for veterans," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi. "By strengthening our network of outpatient clinics, we will bring a greater quality of care closer to where most of Indiana's veterans live."
About 116,881 of Indiana's 565,549 veterans were treated last year in VA's health care facilities, down from 119,000 in 2000. In 2003, VA spent $958 million in Indiana, an increase from $659 million three years before.
Secretary Principi noted that about 80 percent of the health care provided by VA is outpatient care. He said the plan would allow the department to provide more of the outpatient care veterans want and use, while building upon VA's expertise in providing highly specialized inpatient care.
The changes are part of a comprehensive plan called CARES, short for "Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services." The secretary's CARES report can be viewed in its entirety on VA's Web site at http://www.va.gov/CARES.
Briefly, the secretary's announcement included these details:
* Open four new outpatient clinics in Scott County, Peru, Martinsville and Knox County by 2012;
* Transfer inpatient medicine care from the Ft. Wayne campus of the Northern Indiana Healthcare System to the Indianapolis VAMC or to community contracts;
* Use vacated space from Ft. Wayne to provide ambulatory care services, or to explore
enhanced-use lease opportunities with a community health care provider or other health care compatible uses; and
* Expansion of the national cemetery by exploring the feasibility of transferring nine acres of available land from the Marion VAMC to the National Cemetery Administration;
CARES is a plan to modernize and improve VA's health care system. Among the elements of the National CARES plan are more than 150 new community based outpatient clinics, potential creation of four new - and expansion of five existing - spinal cord injury centers, two new blind rehabilitation centers, and expansions throughout VA's healthcare system that will enhance veterans' access to VA care.
The CARES plan was reviewed by an independent commission, which received more than 212,000 comments and held 81 site visits to VA and Department of Defense medical facilities, and State Veterans Homes, 38 public hearings and 10 formal meetings. The commission submitted its recommendations to Secretary Principi in mid-February.
The Indiana Veterans' Service Officers' Association (INVSOA), comprised of Indiana's 91 county Veterans' Service Officers expressed the feeling that the VA secretary adopted the recommendations of the CARES Commission despite the protest of veterans and veterans' organizations nationwide.
"CARES modernizes VA's 74-year old health care system," said Principi. "I want to
emphasize that no veteran will lose health care as a result of CARES, nor will there be
any gaps in their health care services."
Tom Applegate, president of the INVSOA, personally gave testimony at the CARES
Commission site visit to Fort Wayne last year on August 20. "Including myself," he said, "there were six of us from various veterans' organization in Indiana, such as the American Legion, the VFW, the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs and the Vietnam Veterans of America who sat there and told the commission that we did not believe there was a veteran in the state of Indiana who supported the closing down of any part of any VA facility anywhere in the state." He says it's pretty obvious the commission ignored their pleas since the inpatient facilities at both Marion and Fort Wayne will soon be closed.
Applegate says he has talked to veterans' officers all over the United States and could find no one who supported the closing or the scaling-down of any VA facilities. "This is another case of the bureaucracy, in this case, VA, ignoring the voice of the people and, instead, doing what they had their minds set to do in the first place. I believe the CARES Commission was nothing but a smoke screen. I think VA actually thought that if they appeared to do an independent study of the VA health care system and published the results veterans would just meekly accept the results and stop
He concluded, "VA continues to offer what appears to be a benefit to all veterans but ultimately affect very few (such as the emergency medical care benefit which actually only applies to veterans who have no insurance of any kind, including Medicare), or they modify a benefit which used to apply to most veterans until it applies to very few (such as VA nursing home care which now is offered only to veterans who are 70% service-connected disabled or, if they are disabled less than 70%, need nursing home care for their service-connected disability, or those receiving VA pension. The majority of veterans do not fall into any of those categories.
"The reason VA treated less veterans last year than they did in the year 2000 is because on January 17, 2003, without any prior warning, VA rescinded the offer of health care to any veteran who was willing to make the required co-payments. After that date, anyone whose income exceeds a certain amount, is no longer eligible for VA health care. That doesn't sound to our association like VA is looking out for our veterans."