Veterans Administration funding cuts over the past seven years have taken away 10,000 beds from VA hospitals, stopped the VA's nursing home construction and cut geriatric care 50 percent, the inspector general of the Disabled American Veterans said Friday.
John P. Charlton, who was in Salt Lake this weekend to conduct seminars on veteran services at DAV headquarters, 273 E. Eighth South, said continued funding cuts will be disastrous for the nation's 20 million veterans, of whom more than 2.2 million are disabled.Charlton said the funding cuts come at the worst time, "when our World War II veterans need medical care the most. They are now at the retirement age, when they will no longer have the group medical benefits offered by their former employers."
By the end of this century, he said, three of every five American men will be veterans. "Many will need nursing homes or some kind of medical support and care. If the VA cuts continue, the needed services won't be there for our veterans."
Charlton said the 10,000 beds cut from VA hospitals represents the closure of 20 500-bed hospitals across the country. "Continued funding cuts will result in a reduction in amount of the medicines veterans can obtain and the prosthetic devices, wheel chairs and crutches veterans can get at VA hospitals.
"It has already meant long lines to get into VA hospitals and long waits for services."
One problem veterans have had for decades is that the VA administrator's job is not a cabinet-level position. This may change, however, since a bill has passed both the House and the Senate designating a secretary of veterans post. It awaits only the President's signature before it becomes law.
Not so easily solved, he said, are the apathy and complacency the American public has toward veterans, and the problems disabled veterans - like all disabled - face trying to use public transportation and trying to get into and out of modern businesses and office buildings.
"Architects and builders have evidently put aesthetics ahead of functionalism, put beauty and modern design ahead of utility in constructing most buildings and even streets and sidewalks.
"To a disabled person in a wheelchair, a 6-inch-high curb might as well be the Hoover Dam. And some modern buildings are so architecturally complicated that an un-handicapped person has trouble finding the entrance."
Few if any businesses have veteran preferences in their hiring practices and most businesses seem to shy away from hiring disabled veterans, Charlton said, "even though it has been proven time and again that disabled people, veterans or not, make some of the best employees.
"There is no reason that any workplace should be inconvenient for any handicapped veteran, since there are federal grants available to make work places accessible."
Disabled veterans want to be productive. They want to work. They just need a chance, Charlton said.
A Vietnam War veteran, Charlton, 45, joined the Army in June 1960 after graduating from high school in Duluth, Minn. He was assigned to the Airborne Infantry and spent five years in Germany and then went to Vietnam, in November 1967.
He was wounded in two separate incidents in 1968. He was shot twice in the right arm in January while on a patrol with B Troop of the 17th Cavalry of the 101st Airborne Division. In April, while on another patrol, he was riding in an armored personnel carrier when his unit was attacked by an enemy reinforced rifle company.
His vehicle was hit and Charlton lost his left hand and was injured in his right hand and both arms and both legs. After four months in a military hospital, he was discharged, in December 1968.
His awards include two Silver Stars, three Purple Hearts and the Combat Infantryman's Badge.
Charlton, unlike many disabled veterans, is fully rehabilitated, he says, and not only drives a car but is a licensed pilot. He graduated from the University of Houston in 1971 with a degree in business administration and was hired by the DAV five days later.
As inspector general, he oversees the fund-raising activities of local and state DAV organizations. This year, he said, the DAV hopes to raise $27 million to provide disabled veterans with a host of services.
The DAV is funded totally by contributions, he said, and receives no government funds for its many national programs.