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Colorado State Veterans Home at Fitzsimons Resident, Gerry Muehl – Rest In Peace

May 3, 2019

Gerry Muehl in late 2018, at home visiting his wife, his framed military service award behind him

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“Employee turnover [in Colorado state institutions] is at record highs, approaching 30% annually in some departments, and its proving increasingly difficult to fill vacant positions, many having remained unfilled for six months or more.”

Miller Hudson, ColoradoPolitics.com

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It’s a “catch- 22″. If you don’t know the rules it’s your fault; if you do know (the rules) but don’t follow them the right way it’s still your fault. It’s never really been explained to me.

Gerry Muehl. March 5, 2019

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Less than three months ago, I interviewed Gerry Muehl, Vietnam veteran who spent his last days at the Colorado State Veterans Home at Fitzsimons (on the Anschutz Medical Campus). I was informed yesterday (May 2, 2019) that he died on the day before, on May Day, 2019. I was not surprised. Gerry was a Buddhist. He asked that there be no memorial service, he be cremated and that his ashes be placed at Ft. Logan, military cemetery in southwest Denver.

In a recent interview he had elaborated some of his then medical problems. I quote from the taped interview done with him:

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“In 1966 I got tested for diabetes; I found out I had diabetes. The condition progressed from diabetes to glaucoma and Parkinson’s Disease. I’ve had disc degeneration in my back where two discs were dissolving. There’s nothing they can do about it. I’ve had four discs from C-3 to C-7 fixed in my neck. I’ve had both my shoulders replaced with artificial shoulders. I don’t have any kind of left shoulder anymore because the last two they put in kept dislocating so they didn’t put another one in… I’ve got an artificial knee. I’ve got throat cancer and probably lung cancer and the diagnosis is I’m dying.”

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The man obviously wasn’t well.

In spite of all his bodily concerns, he was still focused on more than his personal situation, on getting justice for “Fitz” residents who were being charged for expenses that he insisted that the facility should have paid for. He wasn’t afraid to speak out publicly. He said he was getting a barrage of phone calls and mail from collection agencies who had not stopped harassing his wife and him. Although he was uncertain of the number, he had heard that as many other Fitz residents were being harassed in a similar fashion.

He had agreed to the interview – despite his many health problems – because, as he understood it, the facility, the Colorado State Veterans Home at Fitzsimons, had been derelict in processing these bills. At the same time he was fighting for his own life, he was also struggling for resident justice on this particular issue. The purpose of the interview, quite frankly, was to “goose” the institution to live up to its responsibilities. That was three months ago. A few weeks ago, I happened to be at the “Fitz” facility and inquired if the issue had been resolved. I was informed that, no, it hadn’t.

I am releasing the transcript of that earlier interview below. Notice how honest Gerry is in his responses. He described a bureaucratic maze a dying veteran has to work through; his impressions of how the institution continually cut corners when it came to care. He bemoaned how unresponsive both state and federal authorities were,  as were state legislators.

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Gerry Muehl Interview, March 5, 2019 – Raw Notes

Rob Prince: Alright; let’s just go ahead; it’s (the tape recorder) working. Thank you so much for this interview.

They (the Colorado State Veterans Home at Fitzsimons) had two surveys (recently)?

Gerry Muehl: They had two surveys.

One of the complaints they noted had to do with the way the facility failed to record my sugar ratings.

I’m a diabetic, and have low sugar count. The facility is supposed to notify the doctor of this. If they don’t note the low sugar count in the computer then they don’t have to notify the doctor. As a result, when your results are taken over by your endocrinologist he is not reading the correct results so the endocrinologist can not make the appropriate changes.

The facility decided to put a book in each (resident’s) room; if a resident has low sugar then it has to be recorded in that book.

I also found out – and I haven’t seen the outcome of the state survey – that is when I searched my room when I wasn’t there – I found out that the state did not approve of that.

Rob Prince: Why did they search your room?

Gerry Muehl: They were looking for sharp instruments

Rob Prince: Was that just standard procedure?

Gerry Muehl: No. They were looking for things for a particular reason. I found out that they weren’t supposed to do that. Of course the Director of Social Work that was in charge at the time is no longer employed at the facility. She was one of the ones that was politely asked to leave. And she left.

Rob Prince: What was her name? Do you know?

Gerry Muehl: Jenny something. I never associated with her. She’s – You know how you get a feeling about somebody? – That’s what I had with her. I just had a feeling about her. I never associated with her.

Rob Prince: She initiated this search?

Gerry Muehl: Yes, she managed the social workers. The person she ordered to conduct the
search requested that the search be done when I had returned and was present in the room. But the Director of Social Work ordered her to conduct the search immediately (while I was absent and without my permission). So the social worker who was told to conduct the search was not given the option of waiting for my return, and conducting the search with my permission and in my presence.

Rob Prince: Did you have any recourse to that violation of your privacy? Could you file a complaint?

Gerry Muehl: No

Rob Prince: Gerry I had prepared a number of questions for you today. What I wanted to concentrate on is the unpaid bills that you have been receiving, the collection bills that the facility, Colorado State Veterans Home, was responsible for paying but didn’t.

Let me begin and you can add whatever additional information you think necessary to it.
When did you start receiving these bills from the collection agency? Can you remember?

Gerry Muehl: I would say six months ago.

Rob Prince: Are these a number of different bills?

Gerry Muehl: Yes, they were separate bills?

Rob Prince: How many?

Gerry Muehl: I don’t remember

Rob Prince: Let me get this right. These bills were for services that the institution, the Colorado State Veterans Home, should have covered, but didn’t. Is that correct?

Gerry Muehl: Right, but there are other aspects of all this that I have recently found out during the federal survey [one of two recent surveys at the institution – this one referred to was a federal survey; there was also a survey done by state authorities. RJP].

I talked to the federal surveyors about it. Supposedly the way it was set up was that there was a contract set up between the facility (Colorado State Veterans Home) and the state (of Colorado). If you make your own appointments then you have to provide your own transportation and therefore you, the resident, is responsible for any bills.

Rob Prince: Transportation bills or medical bills?

Gerry Muehl: Transportation bills.

So when I set up an appointment to go a hospital for surgery I was told that I would pay the person “X” amount of dollars, or a set fee, according to whom I am dealing with.
If it’s the driver I’m dealing with I just pay him “X” amount. If it was “Mile High” or “American Medical Response” they have a set fee and you have to pay that fee.

OK, now the problem I ran into goes like this: when I would get done with the hospital, they would send me back (to Fitz). The way it’s supposed to work is that a hospital social worker are supposed to coordinate with the facility (Fitz) social workers to make the return transportation arrangements, whether you come back in an ambulance or a wheelchair van, whatever.

If the hospital does not make the arrangements doesn’t make the arrangements with the facility and the facility doesn’t agree to it – then the hospital just send you back to facility however, and then they claim that the resident is responsible for the transportation bill.

Well, how am I responsible when I don’t know this is the procedure?

The Veterans Administration (VA) has a policy that for transportation needs, a resident has to notify them a month or two in advance and that is a different office within the VA than the one out in Lakewood or the one at the hospital [on the Anschutz campus].

The oncology doctor from the VA has no knowledge of how these transportation rules work. Nor does he seem to want to know. The VA was supposed to be contacting me, sending me the relevant information …

Cutting to the chase: the facility (Fitz) is supposed to be paying the bills.

It’s a “catch- 22″. If you don’t know the rules it’s your fault; if you do know (the rules) but don’t follow them the right way it’s still your fault. It’s never really been explained to me.

If a bill comes in (to Fitz) and it’s more than $5000 then the facility is required to notify the (state) comptroller. It is the comptroller that has to release the funds to pay the particular bill. That takes a while to process.

Rob Prince: Are most of the bills that you are receiving transportation related?

Gerry Muehl: Yes they are transportation bills.

Rob Prince: Have you taken this up with the Fitz Administration? Have they been helpful?

Gerry Muehl: They told me they have been paying them.

Rob Prince: They (the Fitz Administration) say they are paying these bills, but you continue to get bills from collection agencies?

Gerry Muehl: They say they are paying the bills but I still get notifications. I don’t know where in the line the notifications are.

Rob Prince: So the bills just keep coming?

Gerry Muehl: They show up every once in a while. It is not as much as previously and they are no longer calling here (his home in Aurora) and pestering my wife any more. That’s quit.
But I still don’t know what’s going on. The business manager (at Fitz) they hired is out for some kind of medical reason.

Rob Prince: There is no business manager there now?

Gerry Muehl: Well there is some temporary business manager sent in by the state. She comes a couple of days a week; she’s very receptive about taking care of business.

Rob Prince: Then there has been a certain response to this problem recently? The state has been somewhat more responsive to this problem?

Gerry Muehl: Right, but now I’m getting doctor bills!

Rob Prince: Also bills that the facility is supposed to pay?

Gerry Muehl: Yes, bills that Fitzsimons is supposed to pay. I turn them in to the accounting office and then the accounting office puts the bills “in the pile” and when their turn comes up, they pay them.

Rob Prince: Does it look like these doctor bills will be paid?

Gery Muehl: They have to pay them. That’s the way it’s set up. The doctor involved here didn’t know about it (the process). He is supposed to send the bill to Fitzsimons instead of to me.
I signed a form that if these bills come in from this company that they (the accounting office at Fitz) can take the bill and pay it.

The doctor involved was also going to call the billing company to tell them that they are sending the bills to the wrong place, send the bill to the facility.

Rob Prince: What a zoo, huh?

Gerry Muehl: That’s the way it works! Don’t ask me why. Don’t ask me how. That’s the way the company this doctor works for was doing it.

Rob Prince: So many players out of sync with each other.

Gerry Muehl: This is a different kind of a bill.

In order for a doctor’s bill to be paid first I must go to a VA doctor. Then the VA has to give me a referral. So, I’m going to an oncologist. In order for me to see such a doctor outside of the VA, if I have a VA doctor, I have to have a referral from the VA to go to that doctor. If not the VA won’t pay it. That’s the way the VA works.

Now if you go to the doctor Medicare and Tricare For Life – that’s just like going to a regular doctor. I don’t go to the VA for any medical treatment.

Rob Prince: Why not?

Gerry Muehl: I don’t trust them.

Rob Prince: With all the problems you have had over the facility’s failure to pay these bills, who have you contacted for help?

Gerry Muehl: I called the (state) Attorney General. The Attorney General told me there is nothing they could do.

I called the VA inspector’s office (investigator general) and they told me they had no authority over and nothing to do with Fitzsimons.

Rob Prince: When you called the State Attorney General and they replied that they couldn’t do anything to help you, did they refer you to anyone who could help, do something?

Gerry Muehl: Nobody

He told me to call the Veterans Representative for the state. The Veterans Representative for the state told me I had to go through the facility administrator.

I told him that I had done so already and nothing had happened. And then they said “Oh well.”

Rob Prince: Did you go to the facility administrator then?

Gerry Muehl: Yes. and she said it would be taken care of; that’s the last I heard of it.

Rob Prince: Did you contact any state legislator?

Gerry Muehl: No, I don’t know any of them

Rob Prince: Gerry I have heard, admittedly at this point it’s only hearsay, that there are many other Fitz residents in the same situation as yourself – getting calls from collection agencies for bills that Fitz should have paid. I did speak to one resident, who recently died, who detailed similar problems. Are you aware of others? Do you know anything about this beyond your own case?

Gerry Muehl: No. I’ve heard the same thing; I’ve heard that there was “a stack of bills” found but I “haven’t seen anything up front” (ie any documented confirmations).

Rob Prince: Just prior to the beginning of the interview you mentioned that you’ve learned new information about all these billing problems. Can you elaborate?

Gerry Muehl: It’s the information that I just detailed to you

Rob Prince: OK. It just how things worked? Or didn’t?

Gerry Muehl: Yes it’s just how things work…or how they are supposed to work. The VA investigator did say that he would look into it and see who is supposed to do what and that then he would contact me so that I know what to do.

Rob Prince: What I don’t understand is if Fitz is a state institution and you go to the state Attorney General, how the state Attorney General can say that he doesn’t have any authority to look into these matters in a state institution. He’s got authority over everything that goes on in Colorado.

Gerry Muehl: The way it works – you call their office, you leave a message; they return your call and tell you they can’t do anything.

Rob Prince: Oy, oy, oy. OK, moving on. Something that I’ve noticed, admittedly from a distance about Fitz – one administrator after another.

Gerry Muehl: They were supposedly going to hire one and – I’m not sure what happened. This is the third one that’s been there in two years, not counting the temporary one they have now.

Rob Prince: Beyond the personalities of the particular administrators, the chaotic situation that has existed for so long at Fitz – has it improved lately?

Gerry Muehl: No. It seemed like it might improve and then suddenly the administrator left. She got another position with a private company. The Assistant Director suddenly got another job; she got a job she couldn’t refuse within the Department of Human Resources of Colorado. The volunteer coordinator miraculously resigned. The Director of Social Work was asked to leave.

The story about her was that she threatened another employee. That was the reason that she left.
That’s four of the top people in the facility that are gone.

Rob Prince: In what time frame are we talking about

Gerry Muehl: In less than three months.

Rob Prince: So that organizational confusion at the facility continues?

Gerry Muehl: Yes. New administrators and managers come in, they last awhile. If they do what the state wants then it’s ok.

Now you have to remember with the recent election, the new governor, Jared Polis, will appoint a new director of the Human Services division. The current director, Reggie Bicha, is probably out the door. He’s had big problems with the state, with the state legislature, but Hickenlooper never did anything about it. Bicha was admonished by the entire legislature. He must have really done something to make them all mad.

So now we’re waiting for the new governor (Jared Polis) to appoint Bicha’s replacement.

Rob Prince: Turning to your personal history. The last time we met you told me a little bit about your military service. Can you briefly go over that? You said you were from North Dakota? Do I remember that right?

Gerry Muehl: No. I was born and raised in South Dakota. And I was raised in Glen Berry Maryland.

I joined the Marine Corps when I was in Dayton, Ohio. I started boot camp on the first of September, 1966. I went to Vietnam on the first of September, 1967. I left Vietnam on the third week of August, 1970. Got of the military; went back to Ohio. At the time the U.A.W.(United Auto Workers of America) ran the state; they shut the state down so I ended up back in the service. I joined the army. I spent about twelve, thirteen years in Europe in supply, I was in Admin, I was in armor; I spent three years at Ft. Riley, Kansas in armor – field mechanic working on tanks, riding tanks, shooting tanks. I spent a year as a training NCO at Ft. Hood. I retired in 1987.

Then I went to work for the Federal Reserve for a couple of years as a security guard. I went to school and became a mechanic. Then I went to work for U-Haul for three, four years and then I spent ten years working for the post office.

Rob Prince: You worked for the federal government, in one capacity or another, a good part of your life. That’s a lot of service.

Gerry Muehl: Over thirty five years.

In 1966 I got tested for diabetes; I found out I had diabetes. The condition progressed from diabetes to glaucoma and Parkinson’s Disease. I’ve had disc degeneration in my back where two discs were dissolving. There’s nothing they can do about it. I’ve had four discs from C-3 to C-7 fixed in my neck. I’ve had both my shoulders replaced with artificial shoulders. I don’t have any kind of left shoulder anymore because the last two they put in kept dislocating so they didn’t put another one in. I have no shoulder in my left arm. I’ve got an artificial knee. I’ve got throat cancer and probably lung cancer and the diagnosis is I’m dying.

Rob Prince: How old are you?

Gerry Muehl: I’m 69 years old.

I want to add – everyone running for office wants the veterans to vote for them and do things for them but once elected they don’t do a damned thing for us and they don’t want to take care of us.
That’s the bottom line.
They want us to volunteer and get drafted and go into combat situations where we get screwed up or get killed. We’re told “good job” – but that’s it. They don’t do a thing for us. They’re not going to help us out.

You have to fight the VA continuously to get anything; the politicians don’t want to do anything either.

Rob Prince: Have you noticed any differences in terms of Veterans services in how either the Republicans or Democrats have been responsive to Veterans’ needs? Do the Republicans do more than the Democrats? Or do the Democrats do more than the Republicans when in office? Or does it even matter?

Gerry Muehl: The only Republican that I know that ever did anything for us was Ronald Reagan. He gave us the biggest pay raise that the military ever saw. I think it was in his first term.

Rob Prince: And you’re wearing a Reagan t-shirt!

Gerry Muehl: Yes. I saw the shirt and then I thought of what he did for us and I bought it.
The only other president that did anything for Veterans was Jimmy Carter when he pardoned all the draftees and told them they could come home.

They are the only two that ever done anything for veterans.

Rob Prince: One way or another?

Gerry Muehl: As far as the rest of them…they let it (conditions in the military, veterans conditions) go downhill so bad that all of a sudden they found out they didn’t have a military. When I was in the military there were a lot of us that needed food stamps to feed our families because we couldn’t afford to live on what we got paid.

Rob Prince: I’m going to write up this interview. Your situation at Fitz sounds like a little bit of an improvement from when we last spoke.

Gerry Muehl: A little bit, not a lot.

Rob Prince: Anything else you want to share with me?

Gerry Muehl: No, that’s about it.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. margy stewart permalink
    May 3, 2019 10:58 pm

    Great interview.

  2. Theresa Mcdonald permalink
    May 6, 2019 10:07 am

    He was my closest younger brother, thank you for posting this interview!!!
    Theresa Mc Donald

    • May 6, 2019 11:05 am

      Theresa…

      Thanks for kind words.

      Have been trying – to no avail – to know if there is some kind of memorial service for Gerry. Do you know of any? You can respond at my email: robertjprince@gmail.com

  3. Karen Fowler permalink
    May 6, 2019 10:44 am

    President Trump, I thought conditions for veterans had greatly improved on your watch. This story is a travesty. Will you please get to the bottom of this to honor all of our veterans? Thank you.

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