Lakeshore Report

Area Hospitals Pushing to Serve More Veterans

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By: Hilary Powell

August 15, 2014 — Wanda Ludwig, 73, of Knox, Ind. is hospitalized in intensive care at IU Health Starke Hospital, but she’s only concerned about her veteran brother.

“My brother was in the Vietnam War and he lost an eye,” she says. “He has shrapnel right now in his brain. I just thank God for this hospital.”

She says she knows no fresh faces.

“I don’t know no strangers,” Ludwig says. “My mother was that way. I love everybody.”

Meeting U.S. Representative Jackie Walorski this week proved no different.

“You’re a fantastic lady, you really are,” she tells the congresswoman.

Walorski, on a two-day tour of Indiana’s north central 2nd District, wanted to meet veteran families to celebrate the signing of a bill this month to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs. Bill H.R. 3230 is the legislative answer to months of hearings detailing falsified medical records, long wait times and preventable deaths at VA facilities.

“[Veterans] went and fought for this country, for the freedom that we have right now,” Ludwig says. “They went over there and they fought for our freedom. And they deserve better than what they’ve been getting.”

Walorski, a member of the Veterans Affairs Conference Committee, says the agreement includes $10 billion in emergency spending to help veterans obtain care outside of the VA.

“Even though a lot of folks thought that the story stopped with the president signing the bill last week, the story is just starting,” Walorski says.

She says her district, a mostly rural landscape, will benefit strongest by a bill provision allowing veterans to seek primary care at a local hospital if they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility.

“You know, I was raised rural,” she says, “and in this congressional district, you know half this district is rural. It’s very difficult to access services. There is money in this bill to hire additional doctors and nurses, to staff up these places. There is money in this bill as well to provide partnerships with private community hospitals. If they live in Starke County and Knox, Ind. and they’re within 10 miles of that facility, there’s help right now, there.”

So Ludwig’s brother and approximately 1400 other veterans in Starke Co. can get help in their community.

Officials at IU Health Starke Hospital say, in an area with a primary care shortage and the problem of recruiting physicians to the rural location, a federal partnership under the bill could help them serve more service men and women.

“We’re a minimum of 15 to 20 miles away from another hospital,” says Craig Felty, president of IU Health Starke Hospital. “The greatest needs for veterans are really just a continuity of care.

It’s the ability to be able to have a primary care physician or a primary care focus. Number one, it’s difficult for them to access the services as we all have heard. We just we would just love the opportunity to do full service.”

The hospital currently serves 10 percent of the veteran population. Felty says he hopes the bill will increase that number.

“We would love to help all of them,” he says. “You know a lot of them fall outside of the 40 mile, benchmark that’s set in the bill and we would love to be able to be the primary care for all of the veterans of Starke Co.”

“They may not need that help today, but I’ve had so many veterans come up to us and just say thank you so much for doing that,” Walorski says. “I don’t need help right now, but just knowing that if I do, that, you know, I can access care.”
It’s a provision she says delivers on a personal promise she feels obligated to keep for hosier veterans.

“We have the 4th largest National Guard in the nation and we have a half million veterans in our state,” she says. “We’re bound, I think, as leaders of this country, to make sure our veterans get the healthcare and benefits promised to them.”

Before leaving Ludwig, Walorski produces a calling card, reminding her constituent, she’s at the service of a serviceman.

“You tell your brother that if he has any problems, if he needs help, to just call our office,” she says. “We all want the VA to work. We want to provide services in a better way.”

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