Veterans cautious about using provided transportation to Roudebush

COLUMBUS, Ind. — The number of rides provided to veterans who used government-provided transportation to Richard A. Roudebush VA Medical Center for care has plummeted as the pandemic continues.

About 200 local veterans — mostly older residents from the World War II or Korean War eras — have relied on the Bartholomew County Veteran Services office to arrange round-trip transportation to the Indianapolis medical center for their medical treatments during the past few years.

There were 216 round trips for local veterans arranged in 2019 through Veteran Services from Columbus to the Roudebush facility, using a 12-passenger van purchased by Bartholomew County officials for that purpose.

But due to the pandemic, the number of round trips in 2020 fell from 216 to only 22.

Since last March, a total of 101 patients treated at the Roudebush facility in Indianapolis have died from the pandemic, as well as five employees. Of the total 2,158 positive cases involving veterans at the Indianapolis medical facility, 86 are still considered active while 1,971 Roudebush patients appear to be recovering from the virus, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs website.

Instead of taking what they felt was a health risk by riding in the van, a number of veterans made arrangements with family members to take them to and from the medical facility, Bartholomew County Veteran Services officer Larry Garrity said.

There have been a small number of veterans who had to request a ride up to three different times before they finally were taken to the Roudebush facility, Garrity said.

“It’s something our office doesn’t like, but there are certain departments at the VA hospital that are not having face-to-face examinations,” Garrity said.

In recent years, the Veterans Administration has stated there have been substantial improvements with Telehealth, a collection of means or methods for enhancing public health using telecommunications technologies. The system encompasses a broad variety of technologies and tactics to deliver virtual medical, health, and education services, according to Veterans Health Indiana.

But for a number of ailing veterans, the VA hospital appears to be trying to figure out what’s wrong with a patient with just a simple phone call, Garrity says.

“That bothers me, because I don’t know how you can diagnose somebody over the phone,” the veteran services officer said. “I’ve had a few of those myself, so I finally went to a private doctor, got the treatment myself, and paid for it out of my pocket.”

For several years, Bartholomew County Veteran Services has relied on volunteers to get the veterans to their medical appointments.

“A lot of our drivers don’t want to drive patients if there’s a chance they might catch something,” Garrity said. “This epidemic has really put a hurt on us getting people up there.”

Younger veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are more likely to rely on the Wakeman VA Medical Clinic, which opened in early 2016 at Camp Atterbury near Edinburgh. Wakeman is a joint venture of the Indiana National Guard and the Veterans Administration.

But a number of older veterans require more extensive treatment not provided at Wakeman, and have established strong relationships with their health care providers in Indianapolis, Garrity said.

On the national level, the Office of Inspector General of the Veterans Health Administration issued a report outlining the unique difficulties in treating COVID-19.

“A global pandemic that unpredictably targets patients, equipment supply chains, health care staff and an economy can crumble even the most thoughtful and comprehensive emergency management plans,” the report states. “This novel and highly contagious virus has challenged scientists, clinical providers, and policy makers due to the unpredictability of its course.”

Another problem stated in the report that further complicates matters is that strategies aimed at reducing further transmission of the virus are continually evolving.