Man in hospital

How the Wilkes-Barre VA Director stole Christmas

Op-ed by Treasurer Stacy Garrity - In early December, my telephone messages filled with the pained voices of veterans who felt more like prisoners than liberators, men about to be robbed of Christmas by the seemingly endless quarantine at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Wilkes-Barre.

It would mark the fourth consecutive Christmas where overreaching Covid regulations kept our heroes from celebrating together.

“I’ve been in this nursing home almost seven years now and for four of them we’ve been isolated,” one said. “This is like a POW camp.”

It’s easy to understand why he thinks so.

As an acting battalion commander in Iraq, I was in charge of thousands of detainees. Government policy allowed family visits and levels of respect I no longer believe our own battlefield heroes now receive from their own government.

Of the Veterans Administration Hospitals in Pennsylvania, Wilkes-Barre is known for its inflexible Covid policies. Entire floors are isolated when two residents test positive – symptoms or not – for a virus that we now know has been brought under control by vaccination.

Especially galling are the recent canceled trips to the outside world. 

“Guys that don’t have Covid don’t have to go – but they should be able to go,” pleaded one veteran.

Along with Congressmen Matt Cartwright and Dan Meuser, I’ve argued with the Wilkes-Barre VA officials that their regimen of isolation – including, in some cases, excessive quarantines – is costing these men far more than a case of Covid might inflict. This use of rules as an excuse not to think has induced another life-threatening disease: depression.

“These heroes sacrificed so much for all of us,” Congressman Meuser said. “Now we have to stand up for them like they stood up for us.”

“Our mental health is breaking down,” one veteran said in his voice message. Another veteran stated, “I feel that this VA administration doesn’t care for veterans.”

On Thursday, Dec. 14, veterans who had been prohibited from visiting their brothers-in-arms on a separate floor due as part of the in-house restrictions, were allowed to participate in a bus trip to a nearby Wal-Mart if they tested negative.

If veterans can be tested and go on a bus trip to a crowded store, why can’t they be tested to participate in Christmas gatherings? We’re only talking about a handful of men.

As captivity goes, the Wilkes-Barre facility is clean and orderly. But even most prison inmates have a release date. These men, their bodies broken, the years overtaking them, are unlikely to know another home. We owe them the best one we can create.

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