All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for February 2003

Ron's few pleasures ruined by cutback

Advocate angry at halt in home care for elderly.

Saturday, 22 February 2003
Alison Andrews

One of the few pleasures left for former Deloraine farmer and returned serviceman Ron Churchill was his weekly drive in the country.

Mr Churchill and his wife, Jessie, farmed out Montana way from just after World War II until they were forced to move into their neat Kings Meadows bungalow a few years back when multiple sclerosis finally "got" Ron.

"I'd always worked on the farm but it got that way that I couldn't," he said yesterday.

Prostate cancer and diabetes have added to the ex-army serviceman's woes in the past couple of years so that he is now wheelchair-bound: except for three hours once a week when a driver provided by Veterans Affairs' home care service used to arrive, load him into the car - a 15-minute job - and take him for a drive back to his beloved country.

"I don't like cities and streets much. We'd just wander around the back blocks wherever there were paddocks and a bit of bush," Mr Churchill explained.

All that changed when he took a phone call late last year from his Veterans Affairs local home care service provider telling him that his hours had been cut back.

Along with help for Jessie around the house and shopping, Mr Churchill's weekly country drive had been chopped.

The couple are two of more than 600 Tasmanian veterans or their dependents whom Advocacy Tasmania's Julian Eades is just discovering had their home care services chopped on short notice just before Christmas.

What angers Mr Eades is the way in which the services were cut and the feeling that no one wants to take responsibility for the elderly - many of whom are now confined to their homes by the cutbacks. Mr Eades has a steadily increasing number of veterans and their widows seeking his support to retrieve the home support because they have no paperwork explaining what has happened and don't know where to go for help.

He said yesterday that the problem was escalating despite Veterans Affairs Minister Danna Vale's announcing a further injection of funds nationally late last year to prop up the service struggling to meet increasing demand.

"We can help these veterans and their dependents on a case by case basis but it takes a long time to work through all those affected," Mr Eades said.

Most Tasmanians affected were notified of the cutbacks by a phone call from their service provider late last year. "There has been no face to face contact and no written advice," he said.

The way in which the services are delivered makes it difficult to find anyone to talk to regarding the service cut, Mr Eades said.

The funding comes from the federal department but is administered by the state Veteran Affairs offices via their home care offices who subcontract the service out to providers like St Lukes, The Manor and Ainslie, in Northern Tasmania, who often subcontract the service to the client again.

Mr Eades said that the majority of his clients were elderly women on their own, many of whom were now house-bound because their hours to help with shopping and other domestic chores had been cut.

A Veterans Affairs' federal office spokesman said yesterday said that the department aimed to provide basic support to as many veterans as possible.

"It should be stressed that home and garden maintenance services provided under Veterans' Home Care are not designed to replace existing arrangements such as private services or help from family and friends," he said.

But Mr Eades said his clients' needs hadn't changed and they had local doctors who would verify their conditions.

Those responsible for home care at several key agencies contacted yesterday were away so were unable to clarify whether home care funding had been cut or run out, or whether hours would be reinstated to veterans next year.

Mr Churchill just hopes that one day he might get his ride in the country back.

Copyright © 1997-2001