Originally created 11/07/97

Veterans supporters to keep eye on ward



A long-term unit for Alzheimer's disease and dementia patients was spared from closing at the Augusta Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers, but veterans advocates say they will continue to monitor care there.

Acting VA Secretary Hershel Gober called Augusta VA administrator David Whatley after he was contacted by veterans groups and family members of patients in the ward who were upset at the closing. The 37-bed unit, which family members were told would be closed by the end of the year as those patients were sent to private facilities, will remain open, said VA public affairs officer Rosalie Bell.

"It was their concerns" that prompted the change, Mrs. Bell said. The unit will now operate "for the foreseeable future," she said.

"Isn't that wonderful," said Pat Carpenter, whose husband, Ed, has Alzheimer's disease and went to the VA after disastrous stays at more than a half-dozen nursing homes.

Mr. Gober also called state Commissioner of Veterans Services Pete Wheeler, who had faxed a letter protesting the move to 1,500 veterans groups and advocates across the state. It was Mr. Wheeler's letter to groups in Washington, however, that got the VA's attention, Mr. Wheeler said.

"He called me and assured me we will be considered in the future and have an input into what they decide to do," Mr. Wheeler said.

But that doesn't mean the veterans groups will now relax their guard, particularly when it comes to long-term care services at the VA, Mr. Wheeler said. Veterans groups will fight to see that those wards are never closed, he said.

"We don't have enough beds now, and it's ridiculous to talk about closing a ward," Mr. Wheeler said. "It looked to me like they were trying to get out of that business. It's going to be an even greater problem in the future than it is now."

Family members are also wary and would like continued meetings with Augusta VA officials, though none has been scheduled.

"I just don't trust them, not after this," said Libby Rigby, whose brother was moved when a ward closed in August without a meeting with the families.