By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — The Republican Party of Wisconsin is suing Gov. Tony Evers on state open records law violation allegations, charging the administration has dragged its feet in turning over documents on the reported maltreatment of veterans.
RPW requests a Waukesha County court judge compel the Evers administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs to release information related to the treatment and care of veterans at the Veteran’s Home at Union Grove. The party has been requesting records from Evers, his chief of staff Maggie Gau and administrators at Union Grove since June.
U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil (R-1st CD) began sounding the alarm in 2020 about treatment of veterans at Union Grove.
State Veterans care officials declined U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs assistance in late May 2020, more than two months before a COVID-19 outbreak struck the Wisconsin State Veterans Home at Union Grove and killed nine residents, according to a letter from VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to Steil.
“The response notes that federal officials offered consultation and staffing assistance to the state veterans home in May. That offer was declined until August, after the outbreak occurred,” Steil said at the time.
The Janesville Republican asked Wilkie to conduct an investigation into the outbreak in which 28 of 153 veterans in the locked memory care unit tested positive for the coronavirus. Of the nine veterans who died, four were in hospice care prior to the infection.
The Department of Veterans Affairs response states, “(a)t the direction of Milwaukee’s VAMC (Veterans Affairs Medical Center) director, the State Veterans Home VA Medical Facility Representative offered the Wisconsin State Veterans Home at Union Grove consultation and staffing support on May 27, 2020. At that time, SVH leadership declined this assistance until the outbreak in August 2020.”
Earlier this year, the Racine County facility was cited by regulators for failing to investigate reports of patient abuse, not giving residents regular showers, infection control and unsanitary conditions, according to a report by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“The treatment of our heroes at the Veterans Home at Union Grove is completely unacceptable. Actually, ‘completely unacceptable’ doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of how disgusted we are with what is occurring,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) in a joint statement in May. “These veterans have earned far better than the treatment they’ve been getting.”
According to the Journal Sentinel report, in one case Navy veteran Randy Krall was so dehydrated when he was rushed to a hospital that doctors had a difficult time getting a urine sample to diagnose him. His medical chart showed he hadn’t had water for much of the day. When Krall’s condition deteriorated a few weeks later at the veterans nursing home, no one called to alert the family — contrary to facility policy. A Veterans Home nurse contacted Krall’s wife only after he died.
In one of two abuse-related violations, a nursing aide earlier this year flipped over a resident to clean his genital area, according to the newspaper. The aide ignored instructions on how to carefully handle the patient or ask for help from a second aide.
RPW Executive Director Mark Jefferson said the Evers administration is withholding crucial information that the public has the right to see and the delay is for “political gain just weeks for the election.”
Empower Wisconsin | Sept. 29, 2022