Thursday, May 26, 2005

Veterans, Feeling "Betrayed," Sue Rumsfeld

Residents of the Armed Forces Retirement Home filed a class-action lawsuit against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, claiming that under his watch, their care has suffered "drastic cuts."

"The residents are extremely upset and, quite frankly, confused by this treatment," Homer Rutherford, a retiree and spokesman for the plaintiffs, told Knight-Ridder Newspapers. "We feel betrayed."

The 16 plaintiffs, whose average age is 76 and whose average term of service is more than 20 years, claim in their suit that Rumsfeld is responsible for "drastic cuts" in their medical care. The plaintiffs say their suit, Cody et al v. Rumsfeld, which was filed in Federal District Court in Washington, is on behalf of some 1,000 residents at the Pentagon-managed facility.

The budget for operating the home has fallen from about $63 million last year to $58 this year, the home's chief financial officer, Steve McManus, told the Associated Press.

In the suit, the veterans claim they were promised "a model retirement community" when they moved in and were told that under the law the Defense Department was required to provide residents with "high-quality, on-site medical and dental care."

But, according to the suit, over the past two years the veterans have faced:

-- The closure of the facility's primary treatment room with its 24/7 physician on duty. According to the plaintiffs, anyone needing medical care after 4 p.m. must resort to a phone consultation with a nurse or an emergency call to 911. Should an emergency require off-site treatment, the residents say they must pay for transportation themselves.

-- Closure of the on-site pharmacy. Veterans are now sent to Walter Reed Army Hospital.

-- Elimination of on-site X-ray services. Veterans are now sent to Walter Reed Army Hospital.

-- A shortage of basic medical supplies.

-- Elimination of mortuary services.

The veterans told Knight-Ridder that the final blow was last week's announcement that Rumsfeld had included Walter Reed Army Hospital on its list of facilities to be shut down under its Base Realignment and Closures plan. When that closes, the veterans say, they will have to travel farther to commercial facilities for their pharmacy and x-ray needs.

***

The AP reports that the veterans want Rumsfeld to take advantage of a 1994 Congressional provision that gives the Pentagon authority in 1994 to increase one source of the home's operating funds -- a 50-cent-per-month payroll deduction paid by every enlisted member and warrant officer in the military.

Raising it to $1 per month would generate $7 million a year in new revenue, the suit says, and offset the Pentagon's budget cuts.

***

Rutherford told the AP that he had personally appealed to staff members of the House and Senate armed services committees to address the problem, but to no avail.

"This is why we're following through with this class-action suit," he said in a May 23 interview. "We feel we have nowhere else to go, and we feel that it is something that is vitally necessary for the health and welfare of the American veterans who are here at the home."

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