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Neverending battle

Many war veterans are still in combat – but this battle revolves around convenient access to medical care.Luther Floore is a World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veteran. He is tired of traveling long distances for menial health care issues.”I feel it is a disservice to the veterans of Colorado Springs to have to travel 120 miles roundtrip from here to Denver just to have someone look at a fingernail,” Floore said at an El Paso County Board of County Commissioners meeting.Floore was at the meeting to enlist the BOCC with his quest for additional Veterans Affairs medical facilities in the county. He told the board that there is only one VA clinic in Colorado Springs. “While the medical staff there does the best they can, we have many disabled vets in this area that need medical help,” Floore said.Others have taken on Floore’s battle as well.Emijeen Mccaskill, a volunteer who helps homeless veterans find jobs and obtain medical care, also drives veterans to Denver for medical care, but the number of homeless and disabled veterans in the county makes it impossible for volunteers to handle all of their needs, she said, adding that “some veterans have disabilities that make traveling long distances painful.”George Mende is one.Mende’s legs and feet were injured as a result of repelling from helicopters during the Vietnam War. He needed special shoes to walk, but couldn’t get any orthopedic care in the Springs. “The long car trip was painful for George, and he needed to make a number of trips to Denver in order to be fitted for the special shoes,” Mccaskill said. After months of traveling back and forth to and from Denver, Mccaskill said Mendes received his shoes in January. He died in February. She said she believed the last six months of his life would have been less painful if he would have received the proper medical treatment closer to home.However, VA media consultant Susan Broschat said the Springs clinic offers plentiful services, including primary care, mental health, dental, women’s services, audiology, optical and anti-coagulant care. In addition, she said they offer programs that provide aid to homeless veterans and assistance to disabled veterans with their applications for compensation and pension benefits.But Elmer Kirkpatrick, a Vietnam vet living in Falcon, said there are fewer services and it’s not easy to access care in the Springs. “They make it a hassle for us to get good care,” Kirkpatrick said. “Veterans who have to go to Fort Carson for treatment must wait until active duty people are served first. For an emergency, (or) surgery and most other treatments, you have to go to Denver, and it may take up to two months to get an appointment.”An official from the Disabled American Veterans said they run an eight-passenger van from their office on LaSalle Street in Colorado Springs to the VA hospital in Denver daily. Veterans must call to reserve a seat at least two weeks to one month prior to their appointment. They have to be at the office by 7:45 a.m. to catch the ride, and the van leaves Denver at 3 p.m.Another DAV spokeswoman, who did not wish to be identified, said, “Yes, the van is full every day, and veterans in the Springs do need additional transportation to Denver.”Broschat said the current VA hospital in Denver, which is next door to the old University Hospital on Colorado Boulevard, has 128 beds and is a full-service facility. She also added that there are seven other VA clinics throughout the state.Help is on its way – but it’s still Denver based.A new 240-bed VA hospital, being built at the Fitzsimons complex in Aurora in conjunction with the University of Colorado, is scheduled for completion in 2011. The hospitals will cost $7.3 million and feature a state-of-the-art spinal cord injury unit, Broschat said. “Besides treating veterans with spinal cord injuries, we can now offer care to vets suffering from complications brought about by Multiple Sclerosis – a disease that strikes more people in the Rocky Mountain region than any other part of the country,” she said.Still, that doesn’t satisfy Floore.”There’s enough funding to send people to war,” he said. “With the amount of military bases in this town and the number of people who retire here, Colorado Springs should at least have a small VA hospital.”Mccaskill agreed. “Young people risked their lives to serve this country, why can’t we be prepared to serve them when they return home?”

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