Veterans | St. Louis Public Radio


This story was updated at 1:47 p.m. to include the response of a spokesman for the VA region in question.  

Almost 1,000 veterans in Missouri, Kansas and Illinois were denied care at non-VA facilities because their wait times were incorrectly reported, an audit released last week concludes. 

Veterans Home resident Curtis Washington shares his concerns as his wife, Sandra, holds a microphone at an event, October 2017.
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

The embattled head of the St. Louis Veterans Home could lose his job following a state investigation into conditions there.

Air National Guard, Col. Grace Link, interim executive director of the Missouri Veterans Commission, wants to fire Veterans Home director Rolando Carter, who has been accused of mismanagement.

Link also plans to hire 36 nursing assistants for the home, where some residents complained that they were abused and neglected.

Joshua Eckhoff, 33, of Ballwin suffered a traumatic brain injury while clearing roadside bombs in Iraq. January 2018 photo
Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio

Joshua Eckhoff of Ballwin smiled as he described posing for pictures at his college graduation in December — and how proud his mother was. Earning that degree is the latest achievement for the Army veteran who suffered a brain injury in Iraq 10 years ago that no one thought he could survive.

On Feb. 6, 2008, as Eckhoff led a convoy searching for roadside bombs, an improvised explosive device pierced the armored vehicle he was riding in and smashed into the right side of his head. His injury was so severe that the Army notified his mother that he had died in combat.

“I call that my ‘alive day,’ ’’ said Eckhoff, 33. “The anniversary of my injury every year, we celebrate it like a birthday.”

Matt Palozola greets friends at a fundraiser for the Zola Initiative, a nonprofit he started in honor of his brother. Dec. 15, 2017
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

When Tom Palozola arrived at Webster University after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, he struggled to fit in with his younger classmates. But he found solace in in the Student Veterans Organization.

As its president, Palozola worked tirelessly to acquire a grant to open a campus veterans center. He envisioned it as a refuge for veterans who also felt like campus outsiders.  

Palozola had suffered a traumatic brain injury when a roadside bomb exploded in Afghanistan. He struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and died by suicide last May.

My St. Louis VA, Part 3: 'Getting Back to People'

Nov 10, 2017
The stories of St. Louis-area veterans are featured in a three-part series.
Monica Ramirez | St. Louis Public Radio

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, Mission Continues fellow and former U.S. Army combat correspondent Monica Ramirez and production engineer Aaron Doerr took us through the final part of a three part series about veterans getting health care and related services through the St. Louis VA Health Care System.

Through sound-rich narration and storytelling, we heard the perspectives of eight local veterans and their families as they weighed in on what is troubling, isolating, encouraging, and healing about the VA.

Tim Yandell, 53, served in the United States Army for eight years as a Morse Code Interceptor.
Monica Ramirez | St. Louis Public Radio

The number of veterans seeking care from the VA has shot up in the last few years but across the country, the number of medical staff available to provide healthcare services has not.

My St. Louis VA, Part 1: ‘Hoops & Cracks’

Nov 8, 2017
Laurie Ootey is pictured with her husband, Donald Ootey.  Donald Ootey died in 2015.
Monica Ramirez | St. Louis Public Radio

The number of veterans seeking care from the VA has shot up in the last few years but across the country, the number of medical staff available to provide healthcare services has not.

A 2014 law, the Veterans Choice and Accountability Act, funneled $2.5 billion to VA medical centers for assistance in hiring more doctors, nurses and other medical staff. However, an investigation by NPR and local member stations conducted earlier this year found that wait times have not improved.

Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens has sent a scathing letter to the state’s two U.S. senators – including fellow Republican Roy Blunt – that accuses them of ignoring problems at the state-run St. Louis Veterans Home and trying to shift the responsibility to him.

In the letter, sent Thursday, Greitens appeared to take offense at an earlier letter that Blunt and Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill had jointly sent to him this week asking for an investigation into accusations of patient mistreatment.

The St. Louis Veterans Home on Lewis and Clark Boulevard in St. Louis County.
Missouri Veteran's Commission

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens is calling for a fourth investigation in less than six months of the St. Louis Veterans Home in north St. Louis County, following a public meeting Monday where relatives and staff accused the facility of neglecting patients.

“These allegations are deeply disturbing,” Greitens, a Republican, wrote in a statement. “We will continue to demand the best for our veterans, and we will hold accountable those responsible for their care.”

Veterans Home resident Curtis Washington shares his concerns as his wife, Sandra, holds a microphone at an event, October 2017.
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

This story has been updated.

Missed medications. Falsified records. A veteran with dementia placed in a scalding hot shower, unable to move.

One by one, concerned family members and employees of the St. Louis Veterans Home — some angry, others in tears — took to a microphone at North Kirkwood Middle School late Monday. They alleged that the 300-bed facility in north St. Louis County is so mismanaged that its care of aging residents amounts to neglect. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias are particularly vulnerable, they said.  

Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio

A convoy of 60 vintage military vehicles idled on the parking lot at Six Flags St. Louis in Eureka last Wednesday, ready to roll at sunrise.  

But first, the convoy paused for the National Anthem.

These can-do jeeps, ambulances and trucks were parked here overnight, while the drivers slept at nearby hotels and campgrounds. The vehicles were built to transport soldiers and supplies during World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam wars. Now, they’re vehicles of history, owned by members of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association, an organization of nearly 10,000 collectors.

Michelle Daytona, a transgender U. S. Army veteran, held a transgender flag as hundreds of protesters chanted behind her on July 30. The rally was in response to President Donald Trump’s tweets announcing a ban on transgender troops.
Brit Hanson | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 8:40 a.m. August 26 with information on the president's official memo:

Nearly one month after indicating a change in military protocol with three tweets, President Donald Trump signed an official memo implementing a new policy on "military service for transgender individuals." The memo indicates a reversal of an Obama-era policy implemented in 2016, which allowed active-duty service members who are transgender to serve openly and transition while enlisted. 

A young boy carries a rose at a Vietnam Memorial Ceremony near Branson, Missouri at the College of the Ozarks. 2015
Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau | Flickr

Over this Memorial Day weekend, many people through the St. Louis area and around the nation will pause to honor military service members.

Some ceremonies are designed specifically to remember those who died in the line of duty, while others will celebrate all service members, past and present.

Jim Craig, James Petersen, Heath McClung, and Jonathan Hurly, all veterans, joined St. Louis on the Air to discuss what it is like to be a student veteran.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

When people think of the issues faced by veterans in their return to civilian life, the mind often goes to stereotypes: trauma, PTSD, disability. That’s not the only story to tell, said Jonathan Hurly, president of the Saint Louis University Veterans Association.

James Petersen is a Marine veteran who shared his struggles with PTSD on Friday's St. Louis on the Air.
Kim Oswalt | St. Louis Public Radio

In honor of Veteran’s Day, local Marine veteran and Brown School of Social Work student James Petersen joined St. Louis on the Air to discuss his experience with PTSD and the work he is doing to help other veterans facing similar struggles.

Petersen, who served in Iraq, described feeling some trepidation when he decided to pursue a master’s of social work at Washington University.

“Going into the Brown School, which is definitely a liberal leaning school, school of social work, I was pretty nervous to even admit that I was a veteran,” he said.

Preservation lab technician Rebecca Thorn pieces together fragments of a fire-damaged record at the National Personnel Records Center in November 2016
Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio

Archivist Marta O’Neill was standing inside a warehouse-sized storage bay at the cavernous National Personnel Records Center, just off interstate 270 in north St. Louis County.

Nearly 60 million individual military personnel records are stored at the site, but this storage bay is unique. It houses only B-files: the 6.5 million records salvaged from the 1973 fire at the center’s old facility on Page Avenue. That fire destroyed the records of 18 million veterans who served in World War I, World War II and the Korean War.

Jason Kander, left, and Roy Blunt
Carolina Hidalgo and Sen. Blunt's Flickr page

In a sign of how competitive Missouri’s U.S. Senate contest has become, the two major candidates – Republican incumbent Roy Blunt and Democrat Jason Kander – held dueling roundtables with area military veterans.

Wednesday’s events were intended to underscore how both men are highlighting their armed services credentials, and emphasizing their concern about the problems facing the nation’s military.

The John Cochran VA Medical Center in St. Louis.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Veterans Affairs officials say they’re making progress towards shorter wait times at the VA St. Louis Health Care System, but the numbers show that challenges remain. 

At a meeting Friday with the leaders of veteran’s service organizations, Keith Repko, interim medical director, cited the latest report: In St. Louis, patients are waiting an average of five days for mental health appointments, 12 days for primary care and about eight days to see a specialist.

Robert Tebbe, Darcella Craven, and Sheila Suderwalla joined Don Marsh on Tuesday to discuss how their organizations are serving the veteran community.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Military veterans often face significant challenges in re-acclimating to ‘normal’ life in the United States. These challenges may be rooted in mental, emotional and psychological issues resulting from the trauma and stresses of war. Physical injuries can be seen, but internal struggles (what Humans of New York photographer Brandon Stanton calls “invisible wounds”) frequently remain hidden from the outside world.

The John Cochran VA Medical Center in St. Louis.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Next week, in-person interviews will begin for a new director of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs Health Care System in St. Louis -- for the ninth time in three years.

The challenges of finding a director who can make a long-term commitment aren't unique to St. Louis. Across the nation, the VA has had difficulty recruiting administrators, VA Under Secretary David Shulkin said Friday.