CHICAGO (CBS) — The families of military veterans say their loved ones are being pushed out of the VA centers that promised to take care of them.
CBS 2’s Dave Savini investigates what is happening to them and what could happen to countless other veterans.
Alicia Johnson’s 90-year-old grandfather, Gerald Diez, a World War II veteran and Purple Heart recipient, was admitted into a VA facility last year for full-time care. He suffers from Alzheimer’s.
“We felt very grateful and honored that he was accepted into the VA home,” said Alicia Johnson. “They take great care of these men. It’s amazing.”
However, Johnson and the rest of her family became worried earlier this year. They say they were told Diez would have to leave the VA facility in downstate Marion, Ill.
Ted Staley, Diez’s son-in-law, says several other families were told the same thing.
“We were told that the budget had been cut and there were was no funding for full-time care,” Staley said.
Staley says he was told the facility was making room for new veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Staley says the facility wanted to transition into a short-term rehabilitation center.
Not knowing what would become of Diez has been difficult.
“We’re scared,” Alicia Johnson said. “We just don’t know what’s ahead.”
Concern about paying for the care of veterans has been growing. One estimate from congressional testimony last fall says just caring for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans will exceed $500 billion. There is no special fund set aside to cover this expense.
“People need to stand up and say ‘Look, this isn’t OK, it’s not OK anymore,’” Johnson said. “These men and women have served our country, and they deserve to be taken care of.”
The families tell us it was top officials at Marion VA who told them about the move.
“We did ask if there were any recourse and they said no, that this policy was enforced and there was nothing we could do,” Staley said.
The concerns of the various families even led to inquiries at the Marion VA by congressional members. Yet when CBS 2 contacted the facility, a VA spokesperson repeatedly claimed no one is being told to leave.
Now, families like Gerald Diez do not know what to believe or if the government he fought for will provide him the care he needs.
“He deserves better. He never asked for anything his entire life,” Staley said.
CBS 2 obtained internal VA documents that say the department is in fact making changes to become more of a rehabilitation and hospice facility. This supports what the families have been saying.
Then, Thursday, a Marion VA official apologized and said employees gave out incorrect information and that care decisions will be made on an individual basis. The VA indicated Diez will not be displaced.
In terms of the funding problems, some experts say a veterans’ trust fund should be created, similar to the one for Social Security, to make sure promised care will be available.