Veterans protest potential changes at Colmery-O’Neil VA Medical Center
Eugene Perkins receives regular care at Colmery-O’Neil VA Medical Center in Topeka. It was the last Wednesday.
“I can get in and out of here faster. That’s what’s important, “said Perkins, who served in the military from 1973 to 1975.” I use the emergency a little bit because I have to. “
He said some of his medical needs could be treated in an emergency care facility, but other medical needs would require an emergency room. Over the next few months, Perkins may need to find another hospital to treat him as the Topeka VA plans to cut their emergency department.
“You have a lot of veterans for whom urgent care will not help them at all,” he said. “It’s like they’re trying to stop the VAs. Why would you want to outsource it and you have a hospital here.
“I just don’t understand why they want to do this to us.”
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Perkins and a dozen protesters stood outside Topeka VA on Thursday to express concerns about potential changes to the service. Perkins said that although there are other hospitals in the area, he prefers care in the VA health care systems because “we’re around us.”
Others were concerned that the cutbacks in services would discourage people from going to the hospital because they might need to travel to Leavenworth or Wichita for VA care not offered in Topeka.
A petition asking the AV not to offer service cuts has 900 signatures as of Thursday afternoon. Alex Kieffaber, whose father is a veteran, helped create the petition because she fears any changes will prevent overnight care.
Joseph Burks, head of communications at the VA Eastern Kansas Healthcare System, said nothing had been proposed yet, but he said if the emergency department was cut the hospital could operate as an emergency care unit. 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. cases seen overnight is something an emergency care facility could handle.
“In a lot of ways that makes sense,” he said. “The change is frightening. … we worship our veterans, we value our veterans (and) we honor our veterans. The Topeka VA will be around for a long, long time. “
Burks said some emergency visits, such as veterans who had a severe stroke, were already being sent to other hospitals in the area because the VA is not equipped to handle these emergencies. Hospital staff told Topeka Capital-Journal in March that some of the most common emergency department diagnoses were back pain and headaches.
Topeka board member Spencer Duncan said one of his frustrations with the potential changes was the lack of communication. He said he didn’t know whether it was the right or the wrong decision because there was a “complete lack of communication” on the part of the AV.
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Duncan said if there aren’t plans in place with other hospitals or if they haven’t communicated properly to ensure veterans receive good care, that’s not a good plan. Burks said the AV is meeting with other vendors in the community.
Duncan wants to send an official letter from town hall to the VA and state officials expressing his frustrations and asking to know what’s going on. He tried to seek information from representatives of Congress but did not learn much.
“I don’t know what the plan is,” he said. “If they don’t communicate to us, I guess the worst.”
Veterans and supporters of the hospital’s current structure during the protest agreed with Duncan. John Akin, who served in the Navy from 1973 to 1976, said he only heard of the changes on Facebook.
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Withdrawal from the VA emergency department should be approved by the Veteran Integrated Service Network and the VA Central Office. The VA gets its budget from Congress, which would not have control over the proposals, Burks said.
He said the VA will solicit input from the community when the time comes, but a draft of any proposed changes will not be drafted until the end of June.
Burks, who retired from the Army Medical Services Corps in 2013, said veterans can follow Topeka VA on Facebook or go to Topeka.va.gov to find a form where they can submit questions on the process.
“I want our veterans to know that they will be provided and cared for,” he said.