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Service issues continuing to recede at VA hospital


Some cuts in government spending are truly devastating. A 1 percent cut in cost-of-living increases for the military pensions of veterans younger than 62 is not one of them.

American veterans have not always been accorded the respect they deserve. That has changed for the better. It’s now politically popular to do what’s right: to see that veterans have the rewards and services and opportunities that they deserve.

The cut in COLA increases affects only a minority of servicemen and -women – those who served a full 20 years – and provides for a “catch-up” increase when the retirees reach age 62.

A more serious and fundamental concern is health care for veterans. Our veterans’ hospitals have not always delivered the level of service that military patients are entitled to expect, and the military medical-benefits system has been slow on the uptake.

Fort Wayne’s VA Medical Center was one of those singled out for concern. After an inspection found problems with staffing and communications, particularly within the intensive care unit, the hospital shut down inpatient services last fall.

But things began to turn around after Denise Deitzen became director of the DVA’s Northern Indiana Health Care System last December. By October, the hospital was able to phase in all inpatient services except for the ICU.

Deitzen said this week a committee she appointed to look at intensive care is now considering not whether but when and how to resume service.

Resuming service hasn’t been approved, she noted, but “we are planning on it.” In the interim, she said, ICU needs are being filled by Parkview and Lutheran hospitals.

In addition, the veterans hospital is planning to use Parkview’s old cancer center on East State Boulevard, just a few blocks from VA’s main building at Randallia Drive and Lake Avenue.

In that main building, a $3 million construction project is under way for a new primary-care center on the first floor and work is just beginning on an almost $3 million renovation of the third floor for endoscopy and post-operative treatment. The hospital also is planning a sterile-processing suite and a newly designed inpatient care floor. A continuing challenge, Deitzen said, is trying to find primary-care staff.

George Jarboe, Allen County veterans service officer, echoed that concern but said veterans appear to be well treated by the local hospital.

“Service is top-notch,” he said. “The time veterans have to wait for benefits has always been an issue.”

It is not the hospital but the Veterans Benefits Administration that’s responsible for that perennial backlog. The VBA acknowledges the continuing problem and has set new goals to shorten wait times for veterans’ claims.

But Deitzen said that doesn’t affect their treatment here. “When a veteran walks in the door, we see them. Wherever they’re at in the claims process, we see them anyway.”

The improvements at the VA Medical Center are good news for the community and good news for our veterans.