GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- For the first time, many veterans testified alongside grieving loved ones before lawmakers inside the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans Monday.
The joint committee meeting included lawmakers from the Oversight and Ethics Committee along with the Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs, hopeful to document details and move forward with change in favor of these veterans and their care.
During the daylong hearing widow Cheryl Ware testified of her husband Richard's death and said, "the home killed my husband." She demanded accountability.
Ware explained painful details describing fighting a court-appointed guardian for Richard that went against her family's wishes. She teared up when she explained her husband was prescribed Depakote, a drug she said that turned him into a zombie.
“My husband of over 25 years of marriage was gone," said Ware. "On his death certificate the cause of death is c-def [C. difficile infection], this is a direct result of the drug Depakote, no questions about it. A drug that the medical staff at this home insisted he take, demanded that he take it. Who’s accountable for this?”
Many shared difficult stories of systemic problems as documented in the audit released earlier this year. Yet change is on the way: last week the state legislature passed two bills which go into effect immediately.
One requires the state to have an independent ombudsman who will report directly to the legislature on the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans. The second requires the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to report quarterly and update the House and Senate Committees on Military and Veterans Affairs regarding major concerns like staffing levels and care needs.
Additionally, Governor Snyder appropriated $3.5 million toward staffing at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans last week when he approved the state budget.
State Representative Tom Barrett, who serves as the chair for the House Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs and is the only active military legislator, told FOX 17 Monday that these bills won't solve all the problems. However, he said he is committed to the veterans here and their care: Barrett recently introduced a bill that would require the state to license this veterans home like a private nursing facility.
“I look at these men and women here who’ve come to testify as battle buddies of my own: people I could have served with if I had served in a prior generation perhaps, and ultimately this may be a place that I come to live some day," said Rep. Tom Barrett, (R) Grand Ledge. "So it’s very, very important to me that we fix this problem, and it’s something that I’m deeply committed to.”
Michigan Veterans Health System CEO Leslie Shanlian, who oversees daily operations at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, also told FOX 17 a new staffing contractor, Career Staff, hired about 50 additional caregivers as of June 6. The former contractor J2S is still the major staffing agency at the home, though they have been removed from several floors and their former manager is no longer working with the home.