Air Force veteran hits bumpy air: Lack of communication leads to lack of needed health care

Posted: Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Things will be different this time for a Kenai area veteran seeking health care through the Veterans Administration.

That's the word from the Alaska VA Health Care System public affairs spokeswoman.

"I'll double check to see what's going on with his plan of care for while he's at home," said the VA's Marcia Hoffman-Devoe.

She was speaking of retired U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Richard Creary.

On Jan. 9, Creary suffered a stroke in his home across from the Kenai VIP Subdivision and was rushed to the hospital.

When the medical staff at Central Peninsula Hospital learned he was retired military, they decided to have him flown up to the hospital on Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage for further care.

Creary's significant other -- Scharlott Thomas -- then had to do battle to get Creary the rehabilitation therapy all the doctors agreed he needed.

Several factors contributed to the snafu Thomas and Creary found themselves in, not the least of which was the fact the couple could locate only a partial DD 214 military separation document, a paper around which all veterans' benefits are determined.

Eventually Thomas said after contacting Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich's offices, and some newspaper and television publicity, Creary began receiving rehabilitative therapy while on the Intensive Care Unit at Elmendorf.

Late in February, he was transferred to Providence Extended Care where therapy continued.

On Aug. 31, Creary was discharged from PEC and he and Thomas returned to Kenai.

"When we got home, we found out there was no contract for (a Personal Care Assistant)," Thomas said.

While at Elmendorf, the VA issued a special contract for Creary due to circumstances beyond his control, she said, but when they arrived in Kenai, they were told there was no contract.

She attributed the problem to a lack of communication.

After some phone calling, a 1st Choice nurse came to outline what she could do according to a contract issued by the VA Sept. 1 -- physical therapy twice a week, occupational therapy twice a week and speech therapy once a week.

At the same time, Consumer Care Network came with a staff representative and a PCA for what Thomas described as a "meet and greet" visit.

When 1st Choice learned Consumer Care was providing a PCA, 1st Choice told Thomas it would cancel its PCA service and try to get approval to provide a home health aide.

In the meantime, Creary is "pretty much bedridden," Thomas said. "It's because they discontinued therapy and have not provided adequate care."

On Friday, Hoffman-Devoe said she will contact someone in integrated care to see if things can be straightened out.

"When someone goes home -- even with home health care -- it's important to have a primary care person in the home," she said.

Thomas had expected to be that person, but on Aug. 31, she slipped and fell while bringing in some firewood, severely spraining her ankle and twisting one knee. A daughter came over to help out.

"All veterans are eligible for basic health care: primary care, specialized care and hospital care," said Hoffman-Devoe. "Retirees can get care from the VA and also can get (Department of Defense) Tri-Care benefits."

Creary, a 1963 Kenai Central High School graduate, served on active duty from 1964 to 1968. He left the military for a short time, but was offered a re-enlistment bonus and rejoined in 1970, according to Thomas, remaining in the Air Force for a total of 19 years and seven months.

While at Elmendorf following the stroke, Thomas said social worker Angie Hingst "never doubted anything I said. Since we left there, everything has been in question."

Hoffman-Devoe hopes to get some answers.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek@peninsulaclarion.com.



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