01 April, 2006

VA Hospital Shuns Volunteers

[UPDATE: Holly Aho Sends the following clarification, "I should add, that the hospital told me there had already been hundreds of calls from concerned citizens on this issue, and those calls had no impact. So obviously something more is needed. Also, this visiting policy is restricted to the Polytrauma center, where Iraq vets are treated. One may become a volunteer if they are willing to commit to a certain number of hours work per week, and visit the other veterans not in the Polytrauma center. The only problem I have with this is, the veterans in other parts of the hospital, the older veterans, live here. They are being treated here because it is their local hospital, so they are unlikely to be far from home without a hope of visiting family or friends, unlike the specialized treatment in the Polytrauma center (of which there are only 4 in the US)."]

About a year ago the Minneapolis VA Medical Center changed its Volunteer Policy and despite talk of relaxing it a bit, the policy is reportedly now "carved in stone."

In order for a wounded veteran to receive a visit from a volunteer (including MOPH members who have an office in the hospital itself), the volunteer must be on a list of approved visitors for the patient. This list must be filled out by the family before a patient arrives, and may not be amended at any time for any reason. The wishes of the families or patients have no impact; if a person (family, friend or volunteer) is not on the list, that person may not visit the patient. Period.

When this policy began, volunteers who had faithfully and impeccably supported the wounded veterans and their family were shut out of the hospital. Some were literally escorted out by security personal. Families and patients have begged and begged to have specific volunteers re-admitted, to no avail.

As a regular volunteer at the hospital, Holly Aho has been on this story like a bulldog. It took her literally months just to get someone at the hospital to talk to her about the problem. When she finally got someone's attention and went with them to the volunteer office, she was bruskly told that the policy will not be changed and it was clear that she was not welcome.

As Holly points out, not all veterans can have family staying with them at all times. And in the Minneapolis case, they have a highly-specialized unit that serves severely-injured patients from all over the country who are often far from family and friends. Volunteers serve a very important function for these patients, providing them with personal attention and support during harrowing times. Veterans suffering from serious injury need this love and attention to help them avoid feelings of loneliness and even despair. Not only can volunteers support them emotionally, but this kind of attention also helps them heal physically. But the Minneapolis VA hopsital is blocking volunteers from providing this important care!

I may have some "bigwig" contacts at a national level, but a groundswell of outrage about this situation would be far more effective. Let's get out the word--call your local organizations that support our troops, put pressure on the Minnesota congressional delegation, call your VA and veterans' organizations, and post about this on your blog if you have one. It doesn't matter if you're a MN resident or not--this is something that anybody who cares about our wounded troops has a right to be concerned about. Holly is the leader here, but let's see how we can help her.