Courage to Change – Richard’s Story
On August 4, 2011, I was approached by Army veteran and Korean War combat veteran, Richard M. who requested help obtaining food while I was in the hospital canteen. He’d noticed me helping a female veteran with her post-discharge permanent housing relocation care plan. Doing so, he provided information regarding homelessness, as I made brief notes about his history, and that day’s attempt to gain entry into the VA Center domicile program for alcohol intervention and rehabilitation. He was unable to enter the program due to 2.0+ blood alcohol level intoxication that day, and was turned away without support resources.
I provided Richard with food, and went to the Medical Center Chaplain’s office to use their phone to locate emergency shelter assistance for him, in Virginia Beach, or other Veterans Support Organizations in Hampton Roads VA without success. So I arranged transport for him to Savannah Suites in Hampton VA, and obtained a voucher for his night’s lodging.
Again, on Friday morning, I called emergency shelters, finding only one in Newport News, for the weekend. However, policy for the emergency shelters is outplacement from 8:45am to 4pm except for Sunday (rest day). The heat advisories do not change this policy, and most ‘residents’ have no place to go. In addition, for this vet, return transportation to VA Center on Tuesday August 9 for possible placement was necessary. Therefore I visited a Disabled American Veterans office site, to discuss all the issues. I was told no day facilities available, and redirected back to the VA Center unable to arrange for transportation for Mr. M directly to the VA Medical Center, again.
At 1:30, I arrived at Savannah Suites, provided lunch for him and we returned to the V.A. Medical Center to achieve admittance for the promised alcohol treatment. Managing to see the DOM Chief who happended to recognize my name as the architect of the HUD continuum-of’-care blueprint (1993) established at the Maryland Center for Veteran Education & Training (MCVET). While Richard waited in my car, they explained to me --that according to policy, all vets had to be ‘sober’ upon day of entry into the psychiatric ward for substance abuse rehabilitation (same for drug remediation treatment). We discussed the consistent challenge of this policy/procedure, refusing addiction patients, who required medical detox, from the facilities available to do so. The Chief was empathetic, supportive, and trying to take care of the veterans under severe restrictions of ‘policy’ with no recourse.
Especially frustrating as, in Mr. M's case, a homeless veteran, with prior medical history of two strokes, Hepatitis-C, as well as recovery long-term from cocaine and marijuana use. For over thirty years, the veteran owned his own barbershop and home, and then lost it, financially unable to continue to work, medically disabled and living on the street. Alcohol helped him cope. The Chief recognized the situation, and decision to attempt admittance ‘test’ again, for the Psych ward.
An assistant accompanied us to the VA Center Outpatient Services entry, when he became disoriented and weak, unable to walk, losing feeling in both left arm and leg, appearing to suffer a stroke, suddenly requiring emergency care. Admitted to the ER, knowing he was in good care, subsequently admitted as inpatient, I left, at approximately 2:30pm.
On Sunday, August 7, I arrived as planned to visit Richard and to mediate further care for him, if necessary, and was informed that he’d been discharged on Saturday.
Knowing this veteran had NO RESOURCES, I was very concerned about his survival. He may also have been discharged without his VA ID card, as we couldn’t find it in the ER upon admittance, equally concerned he may have lost my telephone number.
Locating the family member (through the internet white pages directory) spoke briefly; they refused to assist. Finally reaching the other veteran, he agreed to start a street search for Richard. He was successful, and Richard called me, so I arranged to take him back to the hospital, where he was checked into the Domicile, for both physical care and substance abuse treatment for six months. All arranged by the Chief, and as a result of my phone call to the local U.S. Congressional representative and the Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington, D.C. executive office staff, whereby I’d submitted a complete incident report for consideration.
The policy was immediately changed. No longer would a veteran be rejected from admittance (especially when they had prior contact for intake) based on an alcohol or drug test the day of admittance.
Richard successfully completed treatment, and also received assistance to review his service record, discharge, disability review, and opportunity for a HUD-VASH voucher for permanent housing in a senior assisted living facility. He was awarded the reasonable benefits he deserved, and his case example resulted in many other veterans to achieve health, stability and housing.
In my experience, over twenty years, most often, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs personnel do care, and as often, but some at administrative hierarchy --at its best short-sighted, archaic policy and procedures, and at its worst misappropriated and wasted funding, dysfunction awareness, that that are root causes of our national crisis with all veterans, and escalating challenges with our Post-911 veterans and families.
As military members, advocates and voters, everyone needs to educate themselves (less based on ‘media’) but recognize instead, the valiant efforts of many V.A. administrators, care-givers, and support personnel, and help them achieve, through our government representatives, the comprehensive continuum- of care, evidence based practices (EBP), and achieve quality of life for those who have paid the most for it, our military members, veterans and their families.
In the meantime, I, the Colonel’s Daughter, with your help, intend to found Warrior Way Permanent Supportive Housing with Holistic Health Services, for our Wounded Warriors and their Families of all ages, from all service branches, with implementing evidence based best practices blueprint programs of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, SAMHSA; it is time to get the Mission done.