VFW raises concerns over VA care

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A fallen service member has a group from the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization speaking out. Some members of the VFW are attributing his death to lack of care from the Colorado Springs Veterans Affairs hospital.

The widow of the service member was left overwhelmed and unprepared. She was concerned about her financial situation and was worried she would lose her house.

The VFW said it’s extremely common for people to not have plans, to not know their benefits, and to not have documents on hand.

A small group of commanders at VFW Post 3917 turned it around.

Ray Belasco was a 20-year Vietnam veteran. He passed away at age 65, and some VFW members believe his death could have been avoided.

“It sound to me, people didn’t really take him serious, didn’t feel that he was really sick,” said VFW Sr. Vice Commander Steve Kjonaas.

He went to the VA in Colorado Springs over the Labor Day holiday and was sent to an emergency room.

“Veterans have very unique diseases, illness and problems,” said Kjonaas. “That’s the difference between the Department of Veterans Affairs and any other civilian healthcare that you see.”

The VA facility in Colorado Springs doesn’t have an emergency room specifically for veterans. For that, they must go to Denver or to a local civilian emergency room.

“As with other outpatient clinics in the community, emergency services are not available at the PFC Floyd K Lindstrom VA Clinic in Colorado Springs,” the VA said in a statement. “We encourage anyone in an emergency situation to seek immediate treatment and care at their nearest emergency department, where appropriate services are available.”

After the emergency room released him, hospice care he was searching for wasn’t enough. He died just days later.

Belasco’s widow, Ute, was left with nothing: no money or plans for her husband’s funeral. She tried to sort things out, but was shut down without documentation.

“Once a service member dies, they cut off his pay,” said VFW Jr. Vice Commander Cindy Galvin. “If you don’t have the paperwork to go in and say, ‘Hey, I’m a spouse,’ then you don’t get the survivors pay.”

VFW members helped expedite the process. Something that could take one to three months was done in about two weeks.

“As a veteran myself, it makes me very happy to help,” said Galvin.

When Galvin was asked why she is also helping plan a funeral this Saturday, she said, “He’s a comrade and we never leave a vet behind.”

The American Legion Post 38 at 6685 Southmoor Drive in Fountain is hosting a memorial service starting at 11 a.m. Saturday. They want other former service members to come out and help support this fallen veteran.

Those close to Ute have released the following statement on her behalf:

Ute would like them to know about her being misquoted. She never said she was afraid nobody would show up for Ray’s funeral. Not a funeral, but to attend a memorial. She only reached out for help with this process, not for anything for her. She also wanted help with the way Ray was treated at Cheyenne Mountain Care Facility (Center) hospice provider. They showed extreme lack of care, compassion and dignity with his care. Ute wants to thank the Veterans of Foreign Wars for their help and all who have supported her and helped during this time.”

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