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Local vets outraged but not surprised

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 28, 2015 at 3:49 PM

SANDUSKY - Local veterans expressed outrage, but not surprise, at reports that have surfaced recently about substandard conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

"It's an embarrassment," said Carl Kramer, a Korean War veteran living at the Ohio Veterans Home (OVH) in Sandusky. "Something's got to be done. Nobody should be in a hospital like that."

Reports of patient neglect and decrepit rooms at the Washington hospital have led to the resignations of Army Secretary Francis Harvey and Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, who was in charge of Walter Reed since August. President Bush has created a bipartisan panel to investigate the problems at the country's military hospitals. Former Sen. Bob Dole, (R-Kan.) and Donna Shalala, who was secretary of health and human services during the Clinton administration, are the panel's co-chairmen.

One Vietnam veteran at the OVH, who did not want to be identified, said he thought the government needed to clean house with everyone overseeing veteran care.

"Our rent's going up, and the quality of care is going down," he said, adding the revelations about Walter Reed are just "the tip of the iceberg."

Vietnam veteran Michael Gilhom was outraged by reports that a company run by two former Haliburton executives, IAP Worldwide Services, had been contracted to run Walter Reed. Gilhom said, based on the handling of Iraq and Katrina, there was no reason to think the Bush administration would be up to caring for veterans.

"Why expect anything better than what you've got?" Gilhom said.

However, Kenneth Veits, who served in the Marine Corps from 1973 to 1980, said that while he does not believe the problems at Walter Reed are being blown out of proportion, he does believe they are being used for political gain.

"The problems they're having now they had two months ago. It didn't crop up overnight. It's being politicized," Veits said. "Veterans are being used for political clout."

Tom Ostkar, a Vietnam veteran, said all the Veterans' Affairs agencies need to be looked into, because the problem is not just with the people in charge, but with the system itself.

"The president said our veterans should have the best. He didn't hold true on that promise," he said.

While Gilhom said the care at OVH has been good, there are limits to what the staff can provide.

"There's only a finite amount of resources available," Gilhom said. "Unfortunately, demand far out weighs the resources."

Anthony Olenek, who served from 1954 to 1958 and 1966 to 1968, said he is surprised at the lack of support veterans are receiving. "I think veterans should be the No. 1 priority."

Gilhom told the story of a 23-year-old Iraq veteran who came to OVH after his skull was crushed while on duty.

"He'll be here for the rest of his life. That's sad," he said.

Betty Shrider, a World War II veteran, called Walter Reed "a very, very sad situation," and expressed her anger on behalf of today's war heroes.

"Our veterans are there, in a war we shouldn't be in, being killed, being maimed and they're not even being properly taken care of," she said.

Shrider said she has been fortunate and has not had any problems with her own care. She and her husband came to OVH three years ago. Her husband, who served for four years in the South Pacific, had suffered strokes and eventually needed round-the-clock care.

"He told me 'During those four years I spent in the South pacific, I never thought I'd be entitled to this good of care when I got older.'"

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