MIKE MASTERSON: What about vets?

Posted: August 21, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

I regularly receive messages from across Arkansas dealing with every imaginable circumstance. There are many Arkansans with legitimate issues and injustices to keep assertive reporters and columnists at their keyboards day and night.

One arrived the other day from an inmate in the state's Department of Correction unit at Marianna who told me he also is a veteran. He raised an interesting point I'd not considered, despite having written plenty about inmates and prisons over the decades.

Charles Walls wrote: "Over a period of time you have written about veterans and their plight with VA disability, health care and other problems associated with our military service. Here's one your employer may not allow you to address: This is the Third World medical care received by veterans incarcerated in the Arkansas Department of Correction (DOC).

"The DOC denies us access to the medical care and services we are supposedly guaranteed by our service. The Arkansas DOC refuses to take us to the Little Rock VA Hospital or to fill out any VA paperwork we need for any diagnosis or treatment. We cannot get a claim started because of their policy.

"Personally, the DOC cannot give me a hearing exam that meets VA standards, thus stopping my claim. Three years ago I requested a shingles vaccination. The DOC denied it saying they would treat me if I got it. I developed a case this year. They gave me ibuprofen!

"I try to help other veterans with their claims, but the DOC stops us by denying any cooperation with the VA. If you could give us one tenth of the attention you give the Buffalo River hog farm issue, we might get some help. Sincerely, Charles Walls."

Well, Charles, I don't see any correlation between your VA problem and preserving and protecting the country's first national river. But you do raise an interesting issue since I suspect a significant number of our inmates are military veterans.

So I sent your letter to Solomon Graves, the public information officer and legislative liaison at DOC, and asked for a response. Being a veteran myself, I'd also like to know what the state's policy is toward those behind bars.

Solomon responded: "Privacy laws prevent the department from specifically addressing this content of this letter with you. However, the department works with its contract medical services vendor, Correct Care Solutions, to ensure that inmates receive any necessary medical treatment in a timely fashion. The following statistics reflect a snapshot of the volume of the care provided to our inmates.

"Between July 2017 and June 2018, we averaged approximately 33,139 nursing visits per month; 8,652 provider visits per month; 525 offsite specialty referral visits per month; and 2,616 chronic care clinic contacts per month (Specialty Needs/General Medicine Clinic).

"Our in-house population over the last year has averaged approximately 15,600 inmates. Without disclosing any specific inmate information, the department has accommodated all requests from the VA to conduct examinations at our Wrightsville Unit which is close to the VA's Little Rock location. Inmates have been transferred to Wrightsville for the examination date."

While that's certainly interesting and it's obvious the medical staff in our prisons stay very busy, I'm still unclear where veterans in Walls' position stand when it comes to receiving VA care they seek. I'd assumed, as with other prisoners, they wind up treated by the department's medical staff.

Yet I see Solomon says DOC accommodates all requests from the VA to conduct medical examinations in Wrightsville near the Little Rock VA. And inmates have been transferred there for examinations.

But what happens when a veteran makes a request for treatment?

Apparently there are at least some provisions made for imprisoned vets to be seen to receive VA care.

So does this mean some vets get seen and others not, depending on requests made from the VA, which may or may not know they need to see a specific veteran? But how would they know unless someone in authority informed them?

Thanks for the response, Solomon. Although I remain confusedly yours.

Newton defies gravity

I was fortunate enough the other day to play another round alongside Robbie Newton along with 53 other two-person teams competing in the annual Paige Slape Memorial Golf Tournament at Diamond Hills near Lead Hill.

A long-drive competitor whose tee shots soar out of sight, Robbie has his own line of custom-created shafts at Chris Knodle's Golf USA in Fayetteville. They are designed around sophisticated measurements of each golfer's unique swing. And while his efforts have added 15 yards to my drives, his latest 48-inch driver is a thing to behold as he sends balls out of sight.

His longest this day was about 390 yards. I just watched and clapped a lot along with the team of Baxter County Sheriff John "Monty" Montgomery (I've nicknamed Monty Longmire after the TV sheriff) and Mark Whitmore, chief counsel for the Association of Arkansas Counties.

I marveled at how this particular Newton can defy gravity and what the combination of strength, technique and the correct golf shaft can add to this enjoyable yet too often frustrating sport.

------------v------------

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Editorial on 08/21/2018