Ray Duckler: There’s no place like home, but no one’s answering the door
Vicki McCloskey is fighting to get her father, Donald McCloskey, a World War II veteran, into the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton after the 89-year-old suffered two strokes. Vicki said red tape has interfered with getting Donald into a state-funded facility. Those are Vicki’s hands around him. (GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)
Vicki McCloskey, a triathlete barely 5 feet tall, banged her open hand on the table for emphasis.
Then she did it again, then again.
She’s frustrated that her father, Donald McCloskey, who’s 89 and who saved lives on a beach in a world war 70 years ago, has had to wait before moving into the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton.
He’s suffered two strokes in the past five months, and, McCloskey fears, doesn’t have long to live. He’s been approved for hospice care.
McCloskey is shocked over the red tape, the delays, the setbacks. It’s been harder than any of those 26-mile bike rides or 6.2-mile runs McCloskey, a child psychologist living in Henniker, has had to endure.
More tiring. More draining. More tense.
“The process should not take this long,” McCloskey said. “The feeling I get is that they’re not doing the best they can. They’re always finding excuses why they can’t do it.”
McCloskey sat on a tiny chair reserved for grade-school kids, in her office at the Henniker Community School, where she’s the school psychologist.
She feels as though she’s reached a dead end, so she called the news media to try to nudge things along. Maybe a story will help facilitate the process, she figured.
Her experience shines a light on a local facility that is understaffed, underfunded and, McCloskey charges, apathetic. It comes at a time when the federal Veterans Administration is being investigated for a cover-up in which inattentiveness to veterans resulted in dozens of deaths.
Donald McCloskey suffered his first stroke in December, in Florida, where the police broke down his door and found him unconscious in the bathroom. He had another stroke last month.
During that span, Vicki has tried to create a comfortable home for her father, his final resting place, one that is affordable and nice at the same time.
The veterans home in Tilton has a solid reputation, a place that cares about veterans. It’s also within the McCloskey budget.
The home charges $280 per day until the veteran’s savings dip below $30,000, then it costs 90 percent of the vet’s monthly income.
Donald McCloskey can afford that. He can’t afford The Arbors of Bedford, a senior care center that’s costing him $8,000 per month while he waits for the screening process to finish at the veterans home in Tilton.
He’s got $37,000 left in savings.
“Very distressing,” Vicki McCloskey said.
Margaret LaBrecque, the veterans home commandant, was on vacation last week and unavailable for comment. Instead, the veterans home, skittish because of confidentiality laws, wrote me a formal statement, emailed by Len Stuart, the program information officer.
“In recent years, the application process has typically run one to four months from filing of initial paperwork to complete approval,” the email read. “Once an application has been approved by the Home’s admissions committee, approved individuals are placed in a candidate pool pending a bed opening on a unit that is appropriate to meet their clinical needs.
“Currently the applicant pool contains veterans who have been awaiting appropriate bed placement since December 2013.”
McCloskey first reached out to the Tilton facility in February. She knows there’s a procedure in place. She knows space is limited.
But she says the staff there has continuously given her hope, then yanked it away. Once, she says, she had to wait an extra week because the person who reviews a veteran’s finances was on vacation.
Eight weeks into the process, McCloskey says, she was told by a staffer that records from Veterans Affairs were still needed, but only after McCloskey had called to inquire about the delay.
“Was she waiting for me to call to prompt her?” McCloskey asked.
Still another time, McCloskey claims, she was told a doctor would review her father’s file on a specific day before approval. But when McCloskey called, she says, she was told it was too late in the day and the file wouldn’t get to the doctor’s desk for another week.
“Aren’t these two people in the same building?” McCloskey said. “Were they sending it UPS?”
Her determination and passion are obvious, clear in her words and her daily workouts, which include swimming, running and cycling. Her husband died of Lou Gehrig’s disease 12 years ago, and now she’s trying to give her father the dignified salute he deserves.
“I’m not a person who lets things go,” McCloskey said. “And think what he did.”
Donald McCloskey piloted a Higgins boat to Normandy, at Omaha Beach, on D-Day, June 6, 1944, to a shoreline full of bullets, artillery fire and death. He brought wounded soldiers back to a waiting ship, then returned to pick up some more men.
It was his daughter who contacted French officials last year, prompting the French Embassy to send a representative to the State House Executive Council Chambers to present Donald McCloskey with the Legion of Honor award.
And it was Vicki who brought Donald back to Normandy in 2012, his first visit since that awful day in that tiny boat 70 years ago.
Now, she wants her father to live out his days in affordable comfort. She even contacted Rep. Steve Shurtleff, a Democrat from Penacook who fought in Vietnam and saw the horrors of war up close.
“There’s a procedure, and that’s understandable,” Shurtleff said. “But if there’s some way to streamline the procedure, then we should be doing it. I feel her frustration.”
For McCloskey, exercise has always served as an outlet for stress. She’s been a triathlete for six years and once competed in London.
She works out with friends but sometimes goes off by herself. Her mind usually fills with what lies ahead, a good way to keep order in her life.
“It’s a good time to solve problems, think them through,” McCloskey said. “This one is a challenge, though.”