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Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 17, 2018

Iowa lawmakers to review Iowa Veterans Home changes

Lack of specifics about plan to double up residents draws concern
By James Q. Lynch, The Gazette | Dec 01, 2017

The speaker of the Iowa House is asking a pair of legislative committees to look into the concerns of Iowa Veterans Home residents who will be moved from private rooms to double rooms while living facilities on the Marshalltown campus are updated.

A plan, which facility Commandant Timon Oujiri said is “very fluid” at this point, calls for residential care veterans — those who are more ambulatory and require fewer medical services — to be moved from the 117-year-old Heinz Hall to Sheeler Hall at the home, perhaps as early as September 2018.

Whether they will remain there or return to Heinz is undetermined.

House Minority Leader Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, said that unknown and an overall lack of details is making residents — who are his constituents — anxious.

He’s pleased Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, honored his request for a legislative review and is confident the House Veterans Affairs Committee and Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee will look into it.

Oujiri, who said legislative approval is not necessary for the changes, conceded there will be some short-term disruption. He downplayed concerns voiced at a recent town hall meeting by residents who objected to being moved from single rooms to double rooms.

Now, each dorm resident has a private room and a shared bathroom. If residents are doubled up, four people will share a bathroom and they’ll “shower like I did in basic training,” said AFSCME Council 61 President Danny Homan, who attended the meeting.

AFSCME represents many of the 900 employees there, but Homan said he’s “not fighting for my members here. I’m fighting for veterans.”

As a veteran, the son of a veteran and the father of a disabled Iraq War veteran, Homan said “this whole thing is disrespectful” because the residents were not asked for input and no one is telling them when they’re going to get moved into double rooms and how long they will be double-bunked.

He believes the changes are being made for state budgetary reasons.

“It’s just flipping disrespectful to men and women who put their life on the line for this country,” he said.

Oujiri, an Army veteran, rejected that.

“We’re not going to diminish their dignity,” he said. “We’re not going to diminish their respect. We’re not going to move them into something that you or I would not want to live in.”

According to the facility’s website, there are 554 residents there who include 440 male veterans and 17 female veterans. The bulk of them, 212, are from the Vietnam era, 85 from the Korean conflict and 66 from World War II.

There are 42 from Linn County and 18 from Johnson County. Ninety-five residents live in dorm rooms and 459 are in the nursing home.

It’s unclear just what the veterans will be moving into. Rooms in Sheeler are “modern rooms” with partitions that create private space for each resident, Oujiri said.

Also unclear is what will become of Heinz Hall. According to Smith, at least three options have been discussed: demolition; renovating it for office space; and renovating it for residents.

Heinz Hall is safe for residents but Oujiri said “the living facility would eventually be much better” in Sheeler.

“Change is always difficult,” he said, “but whatever decision is made, it’s all about the residents, the veterans and what’s best for them long-term.”

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