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Veterans outraged after receiving trespassing citations at VA

CAPE CORAL, Fla. – WINK News investigators continue to stand up for our veterans, uncovering another group of local veterans, who can’t believe how the VA is treating them.

Fort the past 18 months Dennis Simon and other veterans he calls his “brothers” have been meeting for peer-to-peer counseling at the Cape Coral VA once a week.

Like Simon, most of the veterans in his local group fought in Vietnam and all of them suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“You have survivor’s guilt and it really has a depressing result on me,” he explained. “Like the fellas will tell you, before the group I was going through periods of serious deep suicidal depression quite honestly.”

Luis Casilla is a volunteer trained to oversee the group. Also a veteran, he started out as a patient then transitioned to working at a VA office in Boston for more than a decade.

“We’re there, we’re there for each other,” explained Casilla of the group.

But the veterans group said last Friday everything changed. When they went to the VA clinic for their meeting, they were all escorted off the property and written citations for trespassing.

“Here we are senior citizens, we’re veterans, one of our members is 82-years-old and they said you must leave this area immediately it’s restrictive,” recalled Simon. “They issued us citations, calling it trespass. How do you trespass in a facility that was supposedly built for you?”

The men say they asked to speak with the medical director about why they weren’t able to meet anymore and were told she was not available. Simon says that’s when the VA police escorted them off the property and gave them all citations.

“We’ve all be assigned by psychologists to this group and we just want to know why this groups been canceled with no notice…. It was total humiliation, total disrespect,” said Simon.

WINK News Call for Action called and emailed the Bay Pines VA in St. Petersburg, who oversees the three local VA clinics.

According to a spokesman, they are implementing changes which were part of a 2008 law which calls for specific groups to be led by certified peer specialists.

They also sent us this statement:

In an effort to ease this transition, volunteer leaders of these groups began being notified about this change 2-3 months ago during face-to-face meetings with mental health leadership. Mental health professionals continue to work with these groups to ensure successful transitions and continuity of care.

One volunteer-led group at the Lee County Healthcare Center in Cape Coral refused the transition, clinical supervision and presence of a peer specialist during their sessions and have subsequently stopped meeting at the facility. The group leaders were first notified about the transition on October 3, 2014.  

Since that time, we have continued to try to work with the leaders to elicit their cooperation in the new group setting and have also offered assistance to relocate them to a community setting outside of the VA.

On December 5, this group of Veterans presented at the facility unscheduled and unannounced and indicated that they wished to hold a meeting. In the absence of orders, a staff member decided to allow them to meet in a conference room. Shortly after the meeting began, the Veterans left the conference room to conduct a protest about the dissolution of their group outside the administrative offices on the fourth floor. Due to this activity and conduct of the group, VA Police were dispatched to the area and the Veterans were escorted to the parking lot. Each Veteran was issued a courtesy notice and left the property without further incident.

Just like all of our peer support groups, it is our goal to continue providing this service to Veterans in accordance with policy and the evidence-based practice recognized by VHA.  It is important to note that mental health professionals at the Lee County Healthcare Center welcome the continuation of this group with appropriate presence of clinical staff.  We will continue working with Veterans that participate in these groups to ensure they understand how peer specialists and clinical supervision supports better health care outcomes and continuity of care. ”

The veterans we talked to claimed they were told about possible changes but never given a date when the meetings must stop and they feel the VA handled the whole situation poorly.

“We can’t believe the country that we served so honorably we treat us so dishonorably,” explained Simon.

When WINK News spoke with the VA spokesman by phone Wednesday afternoon, he did apologize for the way the situation was handled. However, he reiterated that because of the newly implemented law, mental health groups meeting on VA property must be overseen by a veteran who is licensed and employed by the VA.

He also tells us that they will reach out to the veterans group again to try to reach an agreement.

We also cleared up that the citation the veterans got was just a warning and that they are still allowed on property.

20 Responses

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  1. Larry Ager
    Dec 10, 2014 - 07:24 PM

    I believe WINK TV could be very helpful in addressing the many recent changes in the care which veterans are suppose to be receiving. There have been many recent changes to VA care in which veterans have not been properly notified. I have heard from veterans which have returned to private Doctors and paying for the services. It is not respecting our veterans. The veteran population in SW Florida deserves better. Thank Youfor helping our Veterans.

    Reply
  2. vinnie
    Dec 10, 2014 - 07:48 PM

    that is very wrong and the director should be fired or demoted and the only ones that can give trespass orders is the police

    Reply
    • Bob
      Dec 11, 2014 - 12:36 PM

      Read before you comment please. “VA Police were dispatched to the area and the Veterans were escorted to the parking lot. Each Veteran was issued a courtesy notice and left the property without further incident.”

      “We also cleared up that the citation the veterans got was just a warning and that they are still allowed on property.”

      It was the police; however, it was not a trespass violation. The Director up in Bay Pines was not involved.

      Reply
  3. Jay Gearhart
    Dec 11, 2014 - 06:59 AM

    Certainly should have been handled in a different way. I attend a Veterans ptsd group and have for the past 10’years . The last thing on any nam vets mind going to these groups is causing trouble . We go to help ourselves and especially each outher. The VA , in this case went way overboard in the handling of these brothers.Actually the VA intensified a simple misunderstanding into a confrontation . Very sad!

    Reply
    • Mark
      Dec 11, 2014 - 02:53 PM

      They went to the Admin offices to protest the change. They intensified it, and the VA handled it poorly. There are no innocent parties here.

      Reply
      • Robert Kriegar
        Dec 13, 2014 - 07:28 PM

        I could not disagree with you more. They have every legal right to go to administration and appeal this horrendous conduct. They have a legal right to redress. They intensified nothing, the Admin did by outright lying to them.

        Reply
  4. Charles Kirk
    Dec 11, 2014 - 12:39 PM

    This problem is not restricted to Florida. I am in Kansas and just received notice that because I’m on pain medication that at any time my PCP decides he can stop my pain medications and if I call or come to the VA without an appointment to ask to speak to my doctor or his staff I will be escorted from the VA facility and barred from the premises.
    This action is to prevent anyone from complaining about treatment at the facility by threatening loss of benefits. I have never complained or caused any problems at the VA yet I am automatically treated like a criminal and threatened if I don’t fall in line and keep quiet.
    This is all because of new policies implemented by the VA because of recent scandals, it is their way of continuing the status quo without repercussions and without accountability.

    Reply
    • Robert Kriegar
      Dec 13, 2014 - 07:30 PM

      Contact your Senator and congressman, and other state and local representatives. Don’t take this without a fight, or it will just be the beginning.

      Reply
    • gena t (@genann61)
      Dec 13, 2014 - 08:54 PM

      I filed a claim with the regional office in Houston, TX a few months back. Had received several notices that they were still reviewing my claim. Then, in Nov received a notice that the claim had been denied since I had missed a scheduled evaluation. I called them and the first person I spoke to, and informed him that I had never been notified of said evaluation, just told me I would need to file an appeal. When I called back and spoke to another individual, she made the effort to check my records, and she informed me it was evident that I had, in fact, never been notified of an appointment, since if I had been sent a letter, a copy would be in my file, and if they had tried to call me, a notation would be in my file. Based on that, she made a recommendation the claim be reopened, and actual attempts to notify me of an evaluation be made in the future.
      This was pretty obviously an attempt to reduce their backlog by denying the claim and claiming I had not followed through. Were it not for that one woman, I would have had to start pretty much at scratch to get the claim re-instituted. And the woman had told me I was not the only veteran that that had recently happened to.

      Reply
    • Uphill battle
      Dec 18, 2014 - 12:19 AM

      Some of us Vets that work for the VA are truly there to help. It’s just so overrun w/ lazy “not my job” minded civilians that we’re literally fighting a losing battle. Keep calling the patient advocate, VA facility director, senators & congress reps when your meds are late. They need to get people to answer the phones & get Dr.s to turn their Rx’s to the pharmacy in time to reach you w/ out having to go for days un medicated. The only way it’s going to change is by using the COC. Keep (calmly) calling and document dates/times of all communication. Sadly, persistence is the only key.

      Reply
  5. Donna Baer
    Dec 11, 2014 - 01:54 PM

    Two drastically different takes on this by opposite sides, does this sound familiar? Veterans have been complaining for many years about lack of access so in order to “fix” this problem they decide to put additional requirements on a group which has undoubtedly been meeting for many years at this facility? I call foul on this one–and do not for a moment believe that this “change” was adequately explained to the entire group. If it had been, instead of speaking to “leaders” of the group (who knows if they spoke to 1, 2 or any of the regular attendees?) this could have been avoided.

    Reply
  6. Bernard Lurye
    Dec 11, 2014 - 02:23 PM

    I’m very disappointed in the VA program in Cape Coral
    I have many complaints that are too numerous to mention in the space provided.
    I have let these complaints be known several weeks ago to the complaint department in Cape Coral.
    I believe that I spoke with Susan who was sympathetic but was unable to by-in-large resolve my situation.
    She stated that my complaints were justified.
    I recently aquired a private medical plan outside the Cape Coral that I’m confident will address my numerous needs and complaints.
    If a detailed report of my disappointments is required please advise.
    My future participation at the VA in Cape Coral will be quiite limited in the future.
    Response welcomed!

    Reply
    • Donna Henthorn
      Dec 14, 2014 - 12:30 PM

      If you feel that your concerns are not being met by the local Patient’s Advocates office, please notify the Office of the Inspector General. They should be more reponsive to your concerns, and may well be able to improve the responses on a local level as well. Please don’t give up on your VA Hospital. There are a large percentage of Veterans working at the VA hospitals across the country that consider you to be Our Brothers. When our hands are tied, we bleed for you.

      Reply
  7. Michele Lilly
    Dec 11, 2014 - 02:46 PM

    A friend of mine, who is a vet said to tell the group of vets, that a group of vets in Richmond, Virginia established their own peer group at the VA by joining the craft program. They get a craft, which is a mental health treatment through the recreational therapy program, and then they can sit at the tables and discuss what ever they want, while doing their crafts. The VA can’t do a thing about it. Unless they were to do away with the craft program, which would enrage thousands of vet across the country. The craft program at the VA is sponsored by Help for Hospitalized Veterans, which is a volunteer group out of California.

    Reply
  8. William Fuzi
    Dec 11, 2014 - 03:35 PM

    That’s a union thing. “Someone is doing my work!” You hear that in union shops all the time. It happens when a union member sees work being done in a union shop, by someone who is not in the union. The only thing is that the VA will never say that.

    Reply
  9. Reggie
    Dec 11, 2014 - 04:01 PM

    What this group of Veterans failed to mention was that they barged into the Executive Suite and refused to quiet down and/or leave the area when asked by staff. The VA Police were then called in when one of the staff members was unable to get the group to quiet down and they started yelling at her putting her in fear of her safety. The group was then uncooperative with VA Police trying to quiet and calm them down. They are very lucky they didn’t get charged with Disorderly Conduct and Trespass after warning like what could very easily have happened to them. Many Veterans conduct themselves in a very childishness manner in the VA hospital here and other VA’s that i have worked in. I am a veteran myself and i cannot believe the way some veterans act, makes me embarrassed to be put in the same category as them!

    Reply
  10. Jerry Gutherie
    Dec 11, 2014 - 07:56 PM

    This is just another reason why Vets dont trust the VA. The ones in charge hit the panic button! Any time that you mistreat your Veterans and lie to them,they see right through it. To be told that you are trespassing and written a citation for seeking help for your problems. Shame to the One in charge,Shame on the Officer who was singling out vets. I have seen this Officer in action before he needs terminated!
    First the Director of Bay Pines needs to issue an apology to those Vet!
    The Director of the Clinic should do the same!
    45 years in the VA system!

    Reply
    • Robert Kriegar
      Dec 13, 2014 - 07:32 PM

      It would seem that the country that we fought for is not our country.

      And then wonders why the things are happening in this country today are as they are.

      Reply
  11. Dennis Johnson
    Dec 12, 2014 - 05:44 AM

    I am certainly far away from this television station as I live near Chicago. But I want to thank WINK news for giving a damn. A sincere thanks. The VA is so, so very bound up in their own regulations that it often substitutes as an excuse at a time when we vets need some grace, some compassion. Every time I go to the VA my blood pressure literally goes through the roof. Are there good and caring people who work at the VA? Absolutely as I’ve met many. Hope and healing to all my brothers and sisters.

    Reply
  12. eddie
    Dec 12, 2014 - 06:00 PM

    I M ONE OF THE VETERANS . WHO WAS TREATED UNFAIRLY . WE JUST WANTED TO SPEAK TO SOMEONE IN CHARGE , AND SHOW US PROFF OF THERE REASON FOR NOT LETTING US HAVE OUR GROUP,, THERE . WE HELP EACH OTHER DEAL WITH EVERYDAY LIFE , HOW THINGS EFFECT US . IF YOU DON T HAVE PTSD ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,YOU REALLY DONT KNOW HOW IT EFFECTS US,, WE ARE ALL DIFFERENT , AND WE HELP EACH OTHER WITH THE PROBLEMS THAT , IN OUR MIND …………..ITS NOT EASY , . WE BECAME MORE THAN FRIENDS , WHERE BROTHERS IN LIFE AND DEALING WITH OUR PTSD …………IT DOES NOT GET BETTER ITS GET HARDER , AS TIME PASS.. WE ARE THERE FOR EACH OTHER , IN THE GROUP .. LOOKING FOWARD TO MEET , AND TAKE THE PREASURE OFF , AS WE TALK ABOUT OUR EVERY DAY LIFE . SPOME TIMES I M OK THEN I M OFF THE WALL , THATS WHEN I CALL A BROTHER TO NTALK AND TAKE THE EDGE OFF………WE NEED THE HELP . THATS WHY . TRY TO HELP US …………………

    Reply

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