Justice Department Finds Veterans’ Rights Violated

ABC News Nashville

The federal government could be a step closer to suing the state of Tennessee.

It all stems from problems at the Tennessee State Veterans Homes.

A NewsChannel 5 investigation first exposed problems at the state-run nursing homes.

And soon after, the U.S. Department of Justice opened its own investigation.

Investigative reporter Jennifer Kraus got a copy of the Justice Department’s final report, which was just delivered to Gov. Phil Bredesen. It’s filled with examples of how federal inspectors say the state has failed to care for its veterans and even contributed to some of their deaths.

The U.S. Justice Department lays it all out in its 43-page report, and it’s not pretty.

Federal inspectors visited the Tennessee State Veterans Homes in Murfreesboro and Humboldt three times last spring and early summer.

They came to the conclusion that, not only is Tennessee failing to take care of its veterans, but the report went on to say, “We have concluded that numerous conditions and practices at the TSVHs violate the constitutional and federal rights of the residents.”

The report describes how one patient after another has suffered at the state-run facilities from a laundry list of critical problems.

Specifically, it says, “We find that residents of the TSVHs suffer significant harm and risk of harm.”

And the report goes on to list the areas of greatest concern, including:

  • Facilities’ inadequate medical and nursing care services
  • Improper and dangerous psychotropic medication practices
  • Failure to provide adequate safety
  • Inadequate nutritional and rehabilitation services.

But, perhaps the Justice Department’s most disturbing finding was that this “unconscionably poor health care… is causing needless suffering and, in some cases, premature deaths.”

State Finance Commissioner Dave Goetz takes issue with some of the wording in the report.

“I would put it in past tense because I don’t believe that to be the case anymore,” Goetz tells Kraus.

But Goetz admits the Homes did have serious issues with patient care when federal inspectors visited last year.

Kraus asks Goetz, “How bad do you think it was a year ago?”

Goetz answers, “Worse than I thought.”

He insists though that the state began working to correct the problems immediately after the Department of Justice first pointed them out last year.

Goetz explains, “We have replaced the head operator, the manager of the home. We have replaced the medical director. We have added a dietician. We have replaced the director of nursing. We’ve replaced a significant number of staff. We have added social workers so people get activities that they’re supposed to be. We have made enormous efforts.”

When state lawmakers toured the Murfreesboro home less than two weeks ago, they gave it high marks.

Now, state officials hope federal inspectors will do the same.

Goetz says, “We believe that if the Department of Justice would go into the homes today, they would find dramatically different circumstances.”

The Justice Department however does not, as far as we know, have any plans at this point to revisit any of the homes.

Instead, the federal government has given the state a long list of changes it wants made at the homes. The state has 49 days to make the improvements.

Goetz says most have already been made.

If, in 49 days, the Justice Department doesn’t agree that enough has changed, it has now put the state on notice that the U.S. Attorney General will file a federal lawsuit against Tennessee. It’s something that could wind up costing Tennessee millions of dollars.

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