Wednesday, May 03, 2000

Veterans build home to help sick comrades

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A few months ago, Richard T. Farmer got a call from a retired Navy officer.

[photo] Scott Faelchle of Columbus is a patient at the VA Medical Center.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
        The man told Mr. Farmer, chairman of Cintas Corp., that a group of military veterans was trying to raise money to build a guest house for veterans and their families next to the VA Medical Center in Corryville.

        “I said, "I'm too busy,'” said Mr. Farmer, a U.S. Marine officer candidate who received a medical discharge in 1956.

        “He said, "I understand you were in the military. I always thought my troops were my responsibility. We shouldn't be deserting them at home.'”

        Mr. Farmer found time. He is leading the capital campaign for the Veterans Guest House, which has raised more than $2 million toward a $6 million goal.

        Another $50,000 was taken in Tuesday night.The campaign was the beneficiary this year at the Cincinnati Horticultural Society's annual opening night gala for the Cincinnati Flower Show.

        The guest house, planned for space behind the VA Medical Center at 3200 Vine St., will have room for 38 people. There will be 19 rooms with two twin beds, a kitchen and dining room and laundry facilities.

        VA officials plan to break ground this summer.

        The Navy man told Mr. Farmer it is not uncommon to find families of fixed-income veterans sleeping in cars in the VA parking lot or in chairs or on the floor inside the hospital. Sometimes veterans drive several hours from their homes, receive out-patient treatment and drive home in a weakened condition.

        “We do not leave our troops on the battlefield, and we will not desert them now as civilians with major health care needs,” Mr. Farmer said in an interview.

        Veterans receiving outpatient care and their families and the families of hospitalized patients can stay in the house. They will be asked to make a donation to cover the cost of housekeeping and linen service, as with other hospitality houses.

        The building will cost $1.6 million, and a $4.1 endowment will be created.

        The guest house will be similar to the Ronald McDonald House, which serves parents of children receiving care at Children's Hospital Medical Center, and Parent House, which assists families with children at Shriners Burns Institute.

        The VA Medical Center is nationally recognized for its outpatient treatment for prostate cancer and state-of-the-art prosthetic equipment. It also provides female veterans with comprehensive health services and offers a 10-week therapy program for posttraumatic stress disorder that includes spouse and children.

        Even though inpatient hospitalizations have dropped 1,500 since 1996 — to 4,839 last year — outpatient visits are up almost 50,000 in that time span.

        That increase limits the VA's ability to let outpatients sleep in unoccupied beds.

        “The beds available to lodgers will soon be eliminated,” said Gary Nugent, VA Medical Center director.

        Outpatient Scott Faelchle, 48, a Navy veteran from Columbus, Ohio, has been staying in an extra bed while receiving a seven-week treatment for lung cancer.

        He's four weeks into the treatment, which consists of daily radiation at University Hospital's Barrett Center and chemotherapy at the VA. Mr. Faelchle is the type of veteran who would benefit from the guest house.

        “I don't see how someone could afford five nights in a hotel,” he said. “The only option I would have is the shuttle to Columbus.”

        The VA has a shuttle connecting Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus and Chillicothe.

        “That would about kill me. I'd be on that four or five hours a day every day. It gets pretty messy for me,” Mr. Faelchle said.

        An unmarried house painter and artist, Mr. Faelchle knows several veterans whose spouses and children can't afford to be with their loved one at the VA center.

        The Cincinnati guest house is thought to be the first of its kind in the Midwest. It could eventually be affiliated with a series of guest houses that have been built on military bases, said Mr. Farmer.

        “I'm proud and I'm emotional,” he said. “We're trying to create a pattern that can be used nationally.”

        Donations can be sent to Veterans Guest House, 3200 Vine St., Cincinnati 45220-9803.


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