Ray Duckler: Cutting from the New Hampshire Veterans Home means cutting out dignity
In this case, the words dignity and respect are always close by.
They return, again and again, working their way into conversations, no matter who you talk to.
Don’t the residents of the New Hampshire Veterans Home, the politicians say, deserve more respect? Shouldn’t these people, their loved ones add, be allowed to maintain their dignity?
Budgets cuts are a fact of life these days, but eliminating funding for incontinence care products at the Tilton facility seems, well, disrespectful.
It’s a possibility, although lawmakers are working to avoid it. Leaders of both parties began meeting last Friday, hoping to agree on a budget before tomorrow’s deadline.
Meanwhile, three months ago, a letter from the Veterans Home preparing families for the potential change was mailed, and word quickly spread.
“When I realized that one of the consequences of the cuts in the state budget might be to force veterans who are residents at the Tilton home to dig into their own pockets for this, I was really disturbed,” said Rep. Howard Moffett, a Democrat from Canterbury. “It seems to me that the state can do better than that. We should be treating people who fought and died for this country with more respect than that. If we can’t scrape together the nickels and dimes to take care of them properly at the Veterans Home, then there is something wrong in the state of New Hampshire.”
This is not a partisan issue. This is a human issue, an issue about appreciation and gratefulness and those other two words everyone seems to use.
That became obvious during yesterday’s negotiations at the Legislative Office Building. The Republicans want to take care of those who have taken care of us.
“I don’t think there’s anybody in the room that doesn’t want to fund those (budget) lines properly,” said Sen. Chuck Morse, a Salem Republican and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Meanwhile, the Democrats say the same thing, that we must properly care for those who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.
Said Mary Jane Wallner, a Concord Democrat and the chairwoman of the House Finance Committee, “I think the House definitely agrees that we need to get to some resolution on this and have something that we can both agree upon and fund the Veterans Home in a way that’s appropriate.”
And while comforting words are coming from both sides of the aisle, the words in a recent letter, sent to the families of residents who have lost some ability to care for themselves, told a different story.
“It is with regret that I am writing to let you know of a change in our procedures,” the letter began. “Due to budget cuts . . . residents using incontinence care products will be charged for this product. This will be an additional charge and no longer part of your room and board rate.”
But it’s always been part of that rate, right? That’s what people, mostly wives of veterans, have grown accustomed to through the years. They paid, based on a sliding scale that incorporated their husbands’ net income during retirement. Costs for things like shampoo and haircuts and shoes were paid by the spouse, separate from the monthly room and board bill.
Not incontinence products.
But let’s put that part aside, just for a moment. There is a financial aspect here as well, a dollars and cents bottom line.
A local woman, whose husband, a former Marine, has lived at the veterans home the past 20 months because of dementia, broke down the numbers for us. She wants to remain anonymous because of the sensitive subject matter and concerns about repercussions aimed at her husband.
The woman pays $1,068 from her husband’s monthly social security check of $1,253. That leaves her with $185 for haircuts, etc. The monthly bill for disposable undergarments, she figures, will be $288 a month with the cuts.
That money would come from her own savings.
“This is huge,” the woman said, sitting at her kitchen table recently. “I went up (to Tilton) and investigated what (her husband) uses and I was taken aback that it was that expensive. I mentioned I had done the calculation and found out he did not have enough money each month to pay for those supplies. We actually only had enough to pay for 20 days per month.”
The proposed cut is $1.5 million over two years, and it’s up to Veterans Home officials to decide how to balance their budget. The commandant, Margaret LaBrecque, said she’s received complaints, through both emails and phone calls, over the cut, adding that she sympathizes with those who are concerned.
“We looked at everything we possibly could,” LaBrecque said. “I would say our budget is very lean, and unfortunately that was the only item we could come up with that would be a large enough item that could meet the $750,000 each year.”
That hardly placates people who might be impacted. That hardly makes this any easier to accept.
The unnamed woman paused to fight back tears, then said, “It’s an indignity that they have to use these products in the first place. Now, to take the rest of their income to pay for this on top of that, they deserve more dignity and respect in their last days, you know?”