Ann Arbor V.A. plans to expand access

Judge hopes program succeeds to help struggling veterans get second chance

6/12/2014
BY FEDERICO MARTINEZ
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Ann Arbor Veterans Affairs Hospital
Ann Arbor Veterans Affairs Hospital

The Ann Arbor V.A. Healthcare System plans to expand services for Toledo veterans by creating a program that will help give veterans who run afoul of the law a second chance, Robert McDivitt, director of the Ann Arbor V.A., announced on Wednesday.

The V.A. is also in talks with the University of Toledo to give medical students an opportunity to gain experience by working at the Toledo V.A. Outpatient Clinic.

Toledo Municipal Presiding Judge William M. Connelly, Jr., said he has been working with the V.A. for about two years on what is more commonly referred to as the veteran’s justice court program. The program would give judges and prosecutors the leeway to order a veteran who breaks the law an opportunity to go through intensive drug rehabilitation and therapy rather than be sentenced to jail or prison.

“It’s our hope to proceed with it,” said Judge Connelly, who plans to have his fellow judges review the plan before submitting it to the Ohio Supreme Court for final approval. “It should be approved, but you never know what might happen.”

Judge Connelly said he hopes the program succeeds in helping struggling veterans. The funding is available to hire another probation officer, but all other expenses would be picked up by the V.A.

“Veterans obviously have specialized needs and services that aren’t available to the general population,” he said. “They have unique experiences. We’ll have to monitor the success of the program.”

Mr. McDivitt and University of Toledo President Lloyd Jacobs on Wednesday began discussing plans to give medical students an opportunity to gain experience by working at the Toledo V.A. Outpatient Clinic, Mr. McDivitt confirmed. The talks are in the preliminary stage, and nothing has been agreed on, he said. Dr. Jacobs declined to comment.

The efforts are part of the V.A.’s attempt to continue collaborating with other agencies to develop better services for veterans, Mr. McDivitt said.

Part of that change will include the Ann Arbor V.A. using more non-V.A. agencies, including non-V.A. physicians to speed up care for veterans in Michigan and northwest Ohio, he said.

Mr. McDivitt’s announcements come on the heels of a report released Monday by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that accuses 112 V.A. sites, including Ann Arbor’s of “inappropriate practices,” including doctoring data so it appears that more veterans are being served, and served more quickly than they really are.

Mr. McDivitt said the audits, conducted at the Ann Arbor facility on May 15 and in Toledo on May 16, found no evidence of employees doctoring data or any other legal problems. The audit did show that the Ann Arbor facility needs to improve its scheduling procedures and implement strategies to ensure veterans are being seen and treated more quickly, he said.

Contact Federico Martinez at: fmartinez@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.