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Valley Perspective

Lack of Local ER Puts Veterans at Risk

Military: Those who fought our wars need quick access to emergency care.

November 10, 1996|BILL GILMORE

Dignitaries, marching bands, military flag bearers and speechmakers will turn out in force Monday , Veterans Day, to honor the courageous men and women who gave their lives to protect our country.

Soon after the flags, uniforms and instruments have been stored for another year, thousands of San Fernando Valley veterans--outpatients of the Sepulveda VA Medical Center--will still be wondering why such tributes haven't resulted in nearby emergency care for their life-threatening illnesses.

Since the 1994 earthquake wrecked the local VA hospital building, the bulldozers, torn-up grounds and construction crews have been constant reminders to veterans that 65 million taxpayer dollars were being spent for a clinics facility . . . without an ER!

Former World War II prisoner of war Robert H. Reddin of Studio City points out that clinics at the 113-acre VA site continued uninterrupted in other buildings after the temblor shut down the hospital and forced evacuation of inpatients. "Every former GI knows that VA clinics are vital," Reddin said. "But if a war wound starts doing things to a veteran's heart, minutes make the difference. He or she needs a close-by ER--fast."

For Valley "middle-of-the-night victims" with serious service-connected disabilities, the VA's only advice hasn't changed: "Get to the VA emergency room, 20 miles over the freeways in West Los Angeles. Or, call 911 for paramedic response." They neglect to add that if you can't make it over the hill, you must be prepared for another heart-jolter when your pension funds are drained for private hospital care.

Back in December 1994--with remains of appalling quake destruction still evident and the need for health care emphasized--word came from Washington that the ruined Valley VA hospital was too expensive to replace. Veterans adjusted to being without the nearby, full-care facility, but many continued to believe that an ER would be included in the new clinics building. But no.

On Oct. 25, a sneak preview was held of the new ambulatory care center--without an ER. It was hailed as a prototype of future health care by an official of the Department of Veterans Affairs. "The full-hospital system of health care is falling out of fashion," said Kenneth W. Kizer, undersecretary for health.

This writer wonders how many disabled veterans were polled before an "out of fashion" opinion was determined. When chest pains overtake an aging veteran, he only needs an ER--not fashion!

Well knowing that thousands of sacrificing ex-GIs live in jeopardy and close to the poverty line, this writer did some serious letter writing to many Washington decision makers. One response unbelievably suggested: "Patience!" Does someone scream that word at a heart-attack victim?

Lest we forget while watching TV film of Veterans Day commemorations, these are the returned men and women who left behind loved ones and personal responsibilities to provide protection when the United States needed it. For those war-scarred veterans who were able to rejoin families, shouldn't easily accessible emergency care be available?

Bill Gilmore of Sherman Oaks is a free-lance writer, former public relations man and veteran.

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