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Senate tackles issues with nursing homes for veterans

Most people don't associate soldiers with nursing homes -- but that's exactly where many older veterans and wounded warriors end up when there's no one available to care for them.

Unfortunately, investigations into the method that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) uses to judge the quality of its nursing homes revealed some pretty dismal information. Almost half of the nursing homes maintained by the VA throughout the nation received only one out of five stars possible in the ranking method -- meaning that they were performing at the lowest possible standard. These ratings have always been kept private from public view.

Other information has come to light about the problems within the VA nursing home system that are especially distressing. Staff members report that they're subject to retaliation by management if they report any failures or grievances. There are reports of staff members being verbally abused, bullied even on their own time and forced into isolation at work -- simply for complaining.

For their part, residents and the family members of residents in the VA system detail horror stories involving nursing home neglect. One woman reported that she trusted a VA nursing home to care for her spouse -- who suffered from a form of dementia -- when she became unable to do so. Security at the nursing home was so lax, however, that her husband is presumed to have simply wandered out of the home. He vanished into the nearby woods and was never located.

Since details about abuses and even the rankings used to rate the homes are generally kept from the public, those interested in a VA nursing home's services have no way to protect themselves.

New legislation pushed through the Senate would require Veterans Affairs to file a yearly report with Congress on the scores the nursing homes receive. This would make the information more widely available and force the VA to show what it is doing to address the issues with its lowest ranking nursing homes.

While that's a victory of sorts, it's important that the friends and family members of nursing home residents, wherever they reside, take steps to report abuse and neglect when they find it. That's the only real way to keep a vulnerable population safe from harm.

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