Community, Public Safety & Health

Nonprofits picking up slack as veteran services weaken

Veterans risk their lives protecting American civilians, yet their needs are often not met by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) when they return to the States.

Although 73% of veterans said they received benefits from the VA, according to Pew Research Center, only 46% said the VA is doing an excellent or good job meeting their needs.

The Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report May 15 evaluating the quality of care delivered in the inpatient and outpatient settings of the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center (Roseburg VA): the closest major facility to Lane County veterans, not including the Eugene-based clinics.

Roseburg VA received 12 recommendations for improvement within four of five criteria: leadership and organizational risks (1), medical staff privileging (6), environment of care (2), and mental health (3). It did not receive recommendations for quality, safety, and value.

“These recommendations confirm the urgent need to act upon the serious concerns I have heard directly from veterans who use the Roseburg facility and count on it for quality care,” U.S. Senator Ron Wyden said. “I will keep working with these Oregon veterans to ensure these recommendations are carried out swiftly and fully so they get the care they have earned by their service to our country.”

Patrick Hull, Roseburg VA medical center director, released a statement May 17 regarding the OIG report that emphasized Roseburg VA is taking the recommendations “very seriously” as it understands “the severity of the recommendations made.”

“The OIG surveys play a vital role in our ongoing efforts to enhance the care we offer to our veterans. In response to the report, we have introduced multiple-action plans to address issues concerning suicide risk screenings and recruiting and retention of clinicians. We have made significant progress in reducing our vacancy rates for primary care clinicians, currently standing at 22%. This reflects our dedication to improving access to care,” Hull wrote.

Wyden shared some major concerns after reading through the OIG’s 12 recommendations for Roseburg VA. “Roseburg is operating at 48% of its authorized strength,” Wyden said, which “is unacceptable for the veterans counting on the local and quality care they earned with their service.”

And when considering the “serious matter which is suicide prevention measures,” Wyden connected the issue back to staffing.

“These outcomes are unacceptable and ultimately reaffirm the importance of addressing staffing shortages in Roseburg. I am alarmed that the OIG estimates staff failed to complete an evaluation for 57% of patients who had a positive suicide risk screen, which is significantly above the OIG’s 10% deficiency benchmark,” Wyden wrote. “The OIG report goes on to document that staff did not notify the suicide prevention team about two patients who reported suicidal behaviors during the evaluation. Concerningly, VA OIG observed that the Roseburg VA Health Care System failed to conduct its required five suicide prevention outreach activities each month.”

In the written statement, Hull did not take accountability for the large number of clients who did not receive adequate suicide prevention care.

“Any missed screenings are reported to the Chief of Mental Health and Chief of Staff daily and promptly resolved,” Hull wrote. “These efforts have enabled us to drastically reduce our deficiency rate and are close to surpassing the OIG Benchmark of 10%.”

None of the OIG recommendations have been closed yet, meaning Roseburg VA is still currently working toward compliance in all 12 areas.

“Our steadfast mission is to deliver the right care at the right time, in the right place, and we will continue to work together to serve our veterans and meet their healthcare needs,” Hull wrote in the May 17 statement.

Hull was unable to be reached prior to The Chronicle’s deadline for additional comments.

Resources available within Lane County

The VA has two Eugene-based clinics at 211 East 7th Ave., Suite 220 and 3355 Chad Drive. While the clinics are not full facilities, they do offer many health services like dental care, optometry, mental health services, pharmacy, and more.

There are also local nonprofits that focus on providing veterans with much-needed resources.

The Reveille Foundation assists veterans with re-entering society, and according to president and CEO Steve Yamamori, it works closely with the VA to “assist our veterans in behavioral health benefits, employment, sorta wraparound services” because veterans are exiting a world of intense structure and entering a society which allows for independence and freedom.

He added that not being able to confidently find the resources they need can “lead to homelessness, so we try to help them make a smooth transition into the community. We try to help people who have fallen through the cracks get back into a better position in their life.”

Yamamori said the VA actually funds The Reveille Foundation to have 35 veterans in its facility “where we can offer a roof over their head plus wraparound services to try and get them on their feet and into their own permanent housing as quickly as possible.” This nonprofit started serving the Eugene community over two years ago, and The Reveille Foundation now operates a 66-unit facility in Eugene.

Housing Our Veterans is another Eugene-based nonprofit that focuses on ensuring local veterans can feel the safety of four walls around them.

Lorie Perkins, CEO and founder of Housing Our Veterans, comes from a family of veterans. Her husband, father, and grandfather all served in the U.S. Army. Perkins said resources from the VA are often slow-moving, and she prides herself in having a nonprofit that works rather quickly in comparison. Housing Our Veterans gets back to potential clients within 24 hours.

She said it means “the world” to her to be able to provide resources to veterans in need.

“I have been able to help hundreds of veterans, and there is no amount of money that can ever fill my heart or my life the way this does,” Perkins said.

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