LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — After a blistering state audit of the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, Michigan lawmakers have been hearing horror stories from veterans and veteran advocates about conditions at the home.
Thursday, the House committee overseeing veterans affairs held its third and final hearing about the Auditor General’s report.
“The veteran’s home used to be a beautiful place to live; not now,” said Jerry Lucksted, a nine-year resident at Grand Rapids Home for Veterans. “Many Members refer to the home as being a prison.”
“To see a person go from a well-cared-for status to one of neglect is so disgraceful and a total disregard for human dignity,” said Harriet Sturim, Veterans of Foreign Wars auxiliary chaplain.>>PDF: Audit of Grand Rapids Home for Veterans
Many of those concerns focused on the replacement of state employees with privately contracted caregivers through the company called J2S.
“Yes, everybody supports vets until it costs money,” said Mark Stevens, a Marine and American Legion representative.
Reports of failure to provide timely health care, of veterans left in their beds or lying on the floor after a fall, and an atmosphere of intimidation when complaints were made were common themes in the audit and
the state House and Senate hearings that followed.
The question remains: how does it get fixed?
“There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it, we’ve got enough commitment here. And finally, I think, after two decades – everybody wants to talk about three years, but it’s been two decades — enough is enough,” said Republican Rep. Holly Hughes of Montague.
Some of the representatives did not believe the solution was scrapping privately contracted staff in favor of state employees, but agreed changes in personnel was needed.
“The ones ran by veterans were the successful ones and the ones that were not were bad management, mismanaged, and just didn’t work, so I think we need a veterans’ preference as well to make sure the veterans are in there,” said Republican Rep. Joseph Graves of Argentine Township.
Some legislators said low-paid workers without benefits cannot be expected to perform a job as important as caring for veterans when they see it as a dead-end job.
“We have to treat the workers in that facility well so that they can help treat our veterans well,” explained Democratic Rep. David LaGrand of Grand Rapids.
The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will now send its recommendations to the full House. Those proposed improvements include:
- Creating an independent ombudsman
- Reviewing pay rates and contracts for caregivers
- Seeking more operations oversight from the Attorney General and Department of Health and Human Services