RENO, NV - A 92-year-old Reno woman hopes to send a message about the state of health care for our nation’s veterans. Irene Chappell has lived in Reno for 53 years and was married to two men who served. She says at the end of their lives they received the best care money could buy.
“I was married to a World War II veteran for 47 years and he did not get sick until many years after he was out,” Chappell said. “He went to the old hospital and they took care of him magnificently and he actually passed away while he was in the hospital. I was married to a second veteran who was service connected and he got taken care of and during all that time not a dime was exchanged.”
A few weeks ago she found out things have changed.
“I was under the assumption our veterans were fully covered medically and I found out recently they were not from a friend of mine who’s also a veteran,” Chappell said. “He came to the hospital to get services and he found out he wasn’t eligible. A lot of our veterans have to make co-payments on their medications; they have to pay for appointments. This is not right.”
Chappell had planned to picket outside the VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System on Thursday but learned the sidewalk was considered federal property when she arrived with her family. Still, she handed out pamphlets and held up signs to get her message across.
“Hey, when they put their butts on the line for us we didn’t say, ‘you’re ineligible,’ Chappell said. They went over there a hundred percent; can’t we take care of them a hundred percent?”
Temperatures were in the high eighties my mid-morning but Chappell was determined to stay the course.
“If I do break the law I guess they’ll have to arrest me,” Chappell said. “That’s fine. I don’t want to stay in jail overnight but I don’t mind being there for a few hours. Hey, I could talk to people down there, give them a handout.”
Hospital officials say the VA has had a budget set by Congress since it became a cabinet-level agency in the late 1980s.
“Obviously you feel for Irene and for a lot of veterans who may fall into these situations,” Public Affairs Officer Darin Farr said. “Unfortunately the VA gets a national budget every year and that dictates what the income thresholds are for certain veterans. What we try to do here locally to help out with that situation is try and find any way we can to qualify the veteran. It could be service connection for while they were in; whether they’re a combat veteran. We have counselors who sit down with them and talk about how they can deduct their medical care costs from their assets and income so they do fall in that threshold. It’s actually not as hard as a lot of veterans seem to think it is.”
He says the VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System territory encompasses 120,000 veterans in Northern Nevada and six counties in Northern California. Currently about 50,000 veterans are enrolled in the system, with 373,000 outpatient visits last year.
“That tells you we do a volume of services and we’re trying to grow and change with the times as we can,” Farr said. “It helps when we have our numbers up too because the more veterans we have enrolled here, the more services and programs we’re able to offer. I’m a veteran myself and I get my healthcare here. I would encourage any veteran to at least attempt to enroll here; we want to help you.”