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D. R. Crews

Eighteen More Veterans Administration Medical Centers Are Under The Ax
By David Robert Crews
Mar 27, 2006 - 4:55:00 PM

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Ft. Howard Maryland Veterans Administration Medical Center is the first VA property that will be turned into a veteran and non-veteran independent, assisted living and geriatric care housing project. Eighteen more VAMCs are targeted for the same drastic changes. If you are an American military veteran, or someone who cares about veterans issues, and one of these VAMCs, on the list that follows later in this article, is not near your home, is not your or your loved one’s source of medical care, it is still important for you to be aware of what is happening. Your VAMC could be next.

In my previous article about Ft. Howard VAMC, that is published here in Magic City News under D.R.Crews, I laid out the facts, as I and some other American citizens see them, about Ft. Howard and other Veterans Administration Medical Center properties that the VA has decided to turn into housing developments for veterans and non-vets. Property that would be better used for much needed new VA medical facilities. But the federal government will not give the VA enough funding so that they can replace their old obsolete hospitals.

In recent years, the VAMC system has been transitioning from inpatient care based services to outpatient care, as most hospitals have. I understand that this is a well thought out, planned and implemented change. How much the lack of sufficient, congressional VAMC funding affected the train of thoughts of the decision makers, who set those changes into motion, is your guess as good as mine.

My big beef about this transition is, our VA outpatient care could be provided to us veterans just as well in revamped VAMCs on spacious, peaceful, beautiful grounds as it can be in a crowded, dirty, definitely more dangerous downtown environment like where the Baltimore VA Hospital is. Also, we veterans should still have plenty of access to quality inpatient care, when we absolutely need it.

The Vietnam Veterans of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and other Veterans Service Organizations are constantly working and fighting for more VA funding. Many times, I have read reports of their frustrated attempts to procure Congressional approval for dispersion of more tax dollars to the VA. Money that some tax payers agree should go to the VA instead of to the pork barrel type projects that bring in more votes for the incumbent politicians.

Sometime back in the 1990s, the VA decided to start a process of determining which prime VA real estate locations could be leased out to housing developers, supposedly, so that the VA could attain more funding for VA medical use while making the transition from inpatient to outpatient care based services. The first VA property to be leased out is Ft. Howard Maryland VAMC. That lease is probably already signed.

It would have been signed a month ago, but the property developers, who are going to take over Ft. Howard, sent in a plan for over a thousand living units and Senator Barbara Mikulski sent it back to them and told them to stick to the three hundred unit limit that had been agreed upon earlier. At least that’s what I heard from another concerned veteran who responded to my first VAMC article.

Other local vets and several long time Ft. Howard area residents, whom I talked to recently, expressed their feelings to me that they are in agreement with my take on things. They also said that they had been hearing rumors for decades that land developers were after Ft. Howard to lease it from the government in order to build expensive homes that have wonderful views of both the Chesapeake Bay and the entrance to the Port of Baltimore.

This raises at least two questions:

What came first, the developer’s efforts to influence politicians, VA and other U.S. Government officials to lease them beautiful Ft. Howard, or did the VA make a sound medical business decision to lease out property because of their lack of fair funding to upgrade those properties to modern medical standards?

Did the VA then ponder the facts and realize that prime properties with beautiful views would have to be sacrificed for better VA health care? Even though those beautiful views are from nicely landscaped, well maintained hospital grounds that VA patients, their visitors and the VA staff working there make good use of to help relieve the stress of dealing with often life threatening medical conditions.

I have a sickening feeling that a small group of individuals were successful in making a concerted effort to have available federal tax dollars withheld from veterans health care funding in order to force the decision to lease my earned benefits out from under me.

Some other responders to my article informed me of the VA’s progress in their efforts to lease out more real estate to property developers.

If you web search the word CARES, you will find the VA’s web site that tells the government’s side of this story. It has info on all eighteen VAMCs that are being ‘studied’ for possible “realignment”. I say ‘studied’, but I think it is a done deal for taking great VA real estate for high priced housing that may mostly profit seemingly conniving, maybe even government official bribing, super wealthy land developers who may end up grandiosely throwing only teeny, tiny percentages of their profits towards the VAMC health care system like kings and queens pitching pennies to beggars. I am not alone in thinking these thoughts.

Then will Congress say to the VA and veterans health care advocates, “You get less tax dollars from us for the VA budget this year, because you have all of that lease money from them housing projects of yours to work with!”

What if this prediction of a significantly higher percentage of housing project profits going to the developers does come true? And Congress cuts VA funding too far below what their previous funding was, and then the tax dollars and those lease dollars combined equal a much worse VA budget short fall than usual?

Will Congress then say to the VA, “It’s not our fought that you have less money in your budget this year, that leasing deal foul-up is your mistake, so live with it!”

Here is a list of the eighteen Veterans Administration Medical Centers that are under the ax:

  • Big Spring, TX
  • Boston, MA
  • Brooklyn-Manhattan, NY
  • Canandaiga, NY
  • Gulfport, MS
  • Lexington. KY
  • Livermore, CA
  • Louisville, KY
  • Montgomery, AL
  • Montrose/Castle Point, NY
  • Muskogee, OK
  • Perry Point, MD
  • Poplar Bluff, MO
  • St. Albans, NY
  • Waco, TX
  • Walla Walla, WA
  • West Los Angeles, CA
  • White City, OR

Stick with me now, this article details in depth what will be a long, hard fight for us veterans and our supporters, and why. I have to address as many points of debate about this issue, that I and others who have communicated with me about it, can think of. We need to be as fully prepared as we can be to fight the government and the land developers, who are highly skilled at imposing their public meeting spoken and official report written rhetoric upon us.

The CARES web site has information on and links to documented public meetings, proposals, community input, plans, etc. for each VAMC. Of coarse, it is the government’s version of some things that are relevant to the issues surrounding these upcoming changes.

I didn’t look too far into any one document that is on the web site, but I never saw anything about if anyone was hootin’ and hollerin’ at any of the public meetings in outright opposition to having high priced condominiums where the vets should have new modern medical facilities built for them. Built in accordance with the promise of lifetime access to good VA medical care. A written promise that we vets all received, when we signed on the dotted line then raised our right hands and swore to defend our country, democracy and families with our lives and the lives of our enemies, whom we were soon to be ready, willing and able to kill.

One day, when I was in the Ft. Howard VAMC, a group of us patients were discussing inadequacies in the VA health care system. A sympathetic VA employee was listening to us and came over to our table and, with a heart full of soul, said that it really wasn’t us military service survivors who paid for our veterans benefits, it was our comrades in arms who died while on duty in the service who paid for them. The employee said that our fellow service personnel loved us as much as we loved them, and they all knew that we were all taking the same chances. They had willed us vets our rights to reasonably good VA health care, that are often denied us. We VA patients all heartily agreed with that VA employee.

A lady from the Livermore, California area sent me this email:

It seems that VA has a lot of prime property, the VA hospital here in Livermore is outside of town nettled in the hills where the Veterans can see Deer Wild Turkeys and other critters it’s absolutely beautiful, peaceful and quiet. It too is on the chopping block to be sold and is going to not only take away property that the veterans love but will be a big inconvenience to families.

I would like to hear from other people who live near and make good use of these eighteen VAMCs on the list above. I want to know what the fluctuations in property values in those areas has been like lately. Are the VAMCs in nice areas?  Is there other developing going on around them? Are they obsolete as medical facilities? Could they be rebuilt with fair funding? Are they fully used or underused?

Some VAMCs may not be worth keeping as they are. No doubt about it.

But who will make the decisions on what to keep and what to change? Will it be possibly bribed or other wise similarly influenced government officials? Will bullied and befuddled ordinary citizens, who are not schooled in public debate or legal battles, fare well against wealthy, heartless acting land developers and their government lackeys and/or other co-conspirators who have extensive public debating and legal experience?

If you web search “Bayside at Ft. Howard” you will find the new web site that touts the proposed amenities of their upcoming VAMC housing development.

On the Bayside web site’s location page, there are two maps and one aerial photograph of the Ft. Howard area. These will help you to understand the upcoming traffic and infrastructure problems that are particular to this project, which are defined nearly in full in my Ft. Howard VAMC article. If you live near one of the eighteen VAMCs on the list printed above, it will help you to determine the extent, depth and breadth of possible problems that you will have to endure when the developing begins in your neighborhood. It may influence you to heed this warning that old, established Ft. Howard area neighborhoods residents’ rights are going to be run over rough shod by the land developers and that you may be next for the same lousy treatment.

I don’t know how much all of this baring of the facts will do. It at least leaves a true historical record of the opposition to these afore mentioned changes that many, many people think the same about as I do.

About all that I can do, at this point in my life, about these VAMC changes, is to inform as much of the public as I can of what is happening, and why I and some other folks, who aren’t writers, say that it is happening--as opposed to what the land developer’s and the VA’s spin on the story is. Because, I live on a monthly non-service connected VA disability check that about equals take home pay for a minimum wage job. The web sites that publish my writings are staffed by volunteers. The sites only stay afloat through meager advertising revenues and the efforts of their editors and contributors like me who desire to work as hard as they are able to, express themselves and have some fun writing short stories along with serious articles like this one. I am an ex-army and sometimes civilian photographer, though I never did a whole lot of photography after my discharge from the army, but that’s another story, and my photo portfolio is mostly in hibernation. This computer that I write my stuff on is an old, worn down thing, and it barely runs well enough to stay on the Internet long enough at a stretch to research and email info about these written articles of mine.

I do the best that I can with what I have to work with, so I hope that you will ‘take this ball and run with it’.

I am sending as many emails as I can about these VAMC articles to politicians, media outlets, Veterans Service Organizations, community groups, barber shops, etc. that are near the VAMCs on the list. My writings and email efforts may not change much. I’m up against what is basically a done deal.

But, if I can help ensure fair veterans medical care compensation for the loss of our beloved, beautiful VA properties, then I have done something besides sit here watching TV all day while stewing in my U.S. Government issued disappointment and anger; all the time wondering why I didn’t live-fast-die-young-and-leave a good lookin’ corpse--like some of us were advised to do way back when.

I feel like the guy who defended himself from an armed robber by beating a reasonable amount of crap outa the criminal and then had to pay the robber’s medical expenses and give the robber money for insult and injury that the violent nature of the crime warranted, because the crime victim had no witnesses to back him up.

You may be able to help me make more of a difference though.

Make up and circulate petitions. Write to congress. Write local elected officials; they will say that it is a federal problem at first, but explain to them what any VA land developing will mean to your local infrastructure, school populations, traffic patterns, tax rates, etc., etc.. Attack it from that direction.

Collect stories from local vets and their families about how the VAMC helped them and whether or not it is in the right place for their reasonable convenience. Share that information with your local media.

Have town hall meetings that are set up so that you can get your views heard with significant enough power that stands up to the VA’s and land developer’s massive powers.

If the VA property in your area should be developed into housing, try and make sure that the profits from them are spent on veterans medical care. Make the developers compensate for the inconveniences to your community that they will swear is only necessary for the veterans own good.

Think of things to do about it that I could never conceive of doing. And pray.

There is very little chance that any one person, or even a massive portion of the American population, can do something to stop the government from doing what it wants to.

The United States Government has a long, well documented history of forgetting exactly who keeps this country free.

In 1932, World War One Veterans tried to get the government to give them promised war bonus money before they died and while they and their families were starving in the Great Depression. They camped out in Washington, D.C., along with some of their destitute family members, and protested for months. They were called the Bonus Army.

Eventually, U.S Army officers Douglas MacArthur and George S. Patton went into the Bonus Army’s encampment with fresh regular army troops and whupped the tar out of the same men whom they had led into muddy, bloody hell on earth in Europe during 1917-18, and then burned the camp. Some of those poor fellows’ impoverished family members were injured in the tear gas laced, brutal attack.

Web search “Bonus Army” and see for yourself.

It was because of the Bonus Army’s actions that the GI Bill for higher education benefits, and housing and business loans was written into law in 1944. The government was afraid that returning World War Two American Warriors would be disenchanted with the same crappy lives that they had led before the war and take over the government.

But don’t start an armed revolution, that just tends to make a bad situation worse.

To quote my good friend Tom G., who did two combat tours in Vietnam and then spent even more time than that later, during the past twenty years, in a half a dozen VA hospitals, “The government doesn’t give anything to veterans out of the goodness of its heart.”

In the movie Born On The Fourth Of July, there are scenes that accurately depict the rat infested, miserable condition that some VAMCs were in back during the Vietnam War. But, that aspect of VA health care system inadequacies has changed.

Today, VA hospitals have very high ratings in the medical world. The VAMC system is jammed packed with patients, not all vets who want in can get in. A short while back, the Baltimore VAMC put a one year moratorium on accepting new patients, when thousands of Bethlehem Steel retirees had their pensions pilfered and their earned lifetime civilian medical coverage confiscated. Though today’s VAMCs are crowded, vets often receive top notch treatment there.

We need more modern VA medical facilities. For the first time in our history, we have the quality of health care that veterans earned. We do not have the quantity that we need and earned.

Building new medical centers on VAMC properties using a fair dispensation of tax dollars is what I say should be done.

One time a fellow hospitalized vet, who was dying of cancer, and I were sitting on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay/Patapsco River commenting on how sweet it was to have Ft. Howard VAMC located where we could go outside in our hospital pajamas and get some fresh air in safety and privacy during our traumatic medical experience. He looked at me and said, “Ya know why they put this VA here? Up where I come from in Pennsylvania VA hospitals are all way up on a hill somewhere or back in where there aren’t too many people around. The government put us in out of the way places because people don’t like to see how ####ed up some vets are when they come back after wars.”

I don’t know. Ft. Howard was an old, obsolete army fort and was easily turned into a VAMC at the beginning of WW II. It was way out in the sticks at the time though.

Now some VAMCs are in developing, sometimes crowded, prime real estate markets. The powers that be want to make money off of them.

They say that they will use that money for improving veterans health care.

I say that I doubt that us veterans will get a fair enough share of that money  to actually improve our VA health care services or to reasonably compensate us for the loss of the healing, safe, peaceful privacy and beauty of VAMCs like the Ft. Howard, Maryland and Livermore, California locations.

If the lease money from housing developments built on former VA hospital grounds improves health care for veterans, then I will eat my words in front of the Washington, D.C. Veterans Administration Regional Office at lunch time.

David Robert Crews
2727 Liberty Pkwy
Dundalk, Maryland 21222

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