To the editor,

The unyielding devotion of veterans to the United States of America has resulted in 1,008,563 deaths in all of the major wars the nation has fought including Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. 1,462,518 veterans have been wounded in our nation’s major wars including 31,848 of the nation’s youngest veterans during the two current conflicts. We can only predict how many of our current veterans suffer from PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury.

Many Pella citizens may be unaware the Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) has recommended the Department of Veterans Hospital in Knoxville, Iowa be closed. The previous Department of Veterans Affairs Director Jim Nicholson along with the current director James B. Peake, M.D., have bought into the CARES recommendations hook, line, and sinker. Interesting where individual members of Congress have reacted strongly and blocked such actions, five hospitals were taken off the closure list and are now receiving additional funding for upgrades. The gentlewoman from the state of Washington, Senator Patty Murray has provided every congressman with examples of what can be accomplished when senators are aggressive and will not take no for an answer. Two of the hospitals that will remain open are located in the Washington state.

Some where along the line, a significant number of local and congressional politicians along with the bueuacrats of the Department of Veterans Affairs have forgotten about the sacrifices that so many veterans have made. The actions of the VA Hospital Task Force in Knoxville, Iowa and their congressional accomplices desecrate the memory of every veteran that has made the ultimate sacrifice. Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy, USN; and Sergeant First Class Andrew J. Smith, USA; are two of the nation’s most recent recipients of the Medal of Honor who sacrificed their lives without hesitation in order to prevent additional losses of their comrades. Murphy and Smith lived the values that veterans from 1776 through 2008 subscribe to, the mission comes first, we will never accept defeat, we will never quit, and most important we will never leave a fallen comrade. The task force and certain members of the Iowa congressional delegation should hold their heads in shame since they have violated the very tenets that Murphy and Smith died defending.

What is laughable is the bovine scatology that members of the VA Hospital Task Force in Knoxville have spread regarding the construction of a CBOC with a price tag of $20 million in exchange for the Department of Veterans Affairs property in Knoxville. Where do they plan on obtaining $20 million to construct such a facility? Just short of divine intervention, I suspect that a significant number of Knoxville and Marion County politicos would love to receive the $20 million in the form of earmarked funds provided by either Grassley or Boswell. Knoxville’s business and political elite appear to have no qualms at increasing the national debt that will place strict limits on the standard of living of future generations.

What we do know is that Iowa alone currently has 245,845 veterans living throughout the state.

However when examined more closely the Iowa veterans population is only part of the equation. The total veteran’s population for Division 23 (VISN 23), of the Department of Veterans Affairs is approximately 930,191 veterans in 2008. This population consists of veterans residing in Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, and a small region in western Wisconsin. This population is a critical factor when veterans with mental health issues, are confronted by the reality there are not sufficient mental health services available to take care of them. When a mental health bed is not available in Des Moines or Iowa City, the veteran is shipped to the closest VA facility that can handle the medical problem the veteran is experiencing. Medical research clearly shows that patients recover faster when their families are able to be active participants in the recovery process. That is the reason why the Fisher House Program has constructed 38 Fisher Houses, 18 that are located on military installations and nine VA medical centers. Families play a critical role in the recovery of our wounded warriors and veterans.

So if you are suffering from PTSD, bi-polar disorder, or severe depression you will not receive mental health services for nearly 3.75 weeks (Veterans’ Health, VISN 23, 2008). If it is determined you are a threat to yourself or others, you may be housed but not enrolled in a Department of Veterans Affairs mental health program. If the Knoxville VA were to remain open this unacceptable wait could be eliminated. This is especially true in light of the fact that both the Des Moines and Iowa City VA medical facilities have a total of 32 dedicated mental health beds. Even with the construction of a new facility in Des Moines the number of dedicated mental health beds will not increase. Can anyone look at a veteran who desperately needs in-patient mental health services in Iowa and tell the veteran 32 beds are adequate?

The nattering nabobs of the Department of Veterans Affairs will shrug this off and try to convince Americans there is no need to expand inpatient mental health care in Iowa. Their position is the majority of veterans suffering from mental health related conditions can be adequately taken care of through out-patient clinics. This is exactly what was promised to the mental health community nearly 30 years ago with the mainstreaming of mental health patients into society. This approach has not worked for the general population, it is not working for the current veteran’s population, and it will not work in the future. Does anyone really believe that a heavy reliance on treating veterans’ mental health issues can be addressed on an outpatient basis when the following is now staring us in the face? “Through January 2008 the VA has reported that of the 299,585 separated OEF/OIF veterans who have sought VA health care since fiscal year 2002, a total of 120,049 unique patients had received a diagnosis of a possible mental health disorder. Almost 60,000 enrolled OEF/OIF veterans has a probable diagnosis of PTSD, almost 40,000 OEF/OIF have been diagnosed with depression and more than 48,000 reported non-dependent use of drugs (The Independent Budget For Fiscal Year 2009, Disabled American Veterans, 2008).”

Citizens of Pella may say to themselves that the closing of the VA Hospital at Knoxville is a local problem and the political leadership of Knoxville, Iowa should be allowed to address this issue as they see fit. The VA Hospital in Knoxville is not owned by Knoxville or Marion County. This fine facility that has helped thousands of veterans is owned by every American and the potential loss of this facility is a national tragedy.

Iowans must seize the moment and compel Congress to stop the closing of the Knoxville VA Hospital. Ring the clarion and call your congressional representatives and insist that the Knoxville VA Hospital remain open. Do not write your congressional and senatorial delegation, take a moment and call their Washington offices and make it clear you are totally against the Department of Veterans Affairs closing the Knoxville VA Hospital. Idleness on your part insults the memory and spirit of every American patriot who has stood up when our nation was in peril and said, “take me.”

Michael Robinson


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