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Veteran with dementia punched in the face by employee at Louisiana veterans home

A veteran waves his flag during the Veterans Parade at the State Fair of Louisiana in Shreveport, Nov. 13, 2016.

DAMON KASBERG/U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO

By REBEKAH ALLEN | The Advocate (Tribune News Service) | Published: May 12, 2017

A 77-year-old veteran with dementia who was living in a state-run home for war veterans in East Feliciana, La., was punched in the face and hospitalized by an employee who has since been fired.

The Veterans Home did not notify the family or transport the veteran to a hospital until three days after the incident, and family members say they're outraged by the lapse.

Wilton Craft, a veteran of the U.S. Army's 6th Special Forces Group, has lived at the Jackson Veterans Home for almost three years, said his daughter Tammie Faul, a Baton Rouge resident.

Faul said she got a call on May 1 notifying her that her father was being taken to the hospital. She said staff told her he was brought to the hospital because of swelling feet and because his "eye was leaking" and they wanted him to see a neurologist.

When Faul arrived, she saw her father had a black eye.

"The inside was extremely red and he kept it closed," Faul said. At that point Faul called the home and demanded answers. She had previously thought her father had fallen or was sick.

"All of this went down on a Friday night, and no one even thought to go to a hospital or even call me until Monday," she said. "He went all weekend hurting. That's got to be terrible."

Faul said that her father can't properly communicate if he's feeling pain or sickness. He's still in the hospital because it was determined during his visit that he has pneumonia.

Julie Baxter Payer, the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs executive counsel, said as soon as officials became aware of the situation they notified law enforcement, started an internal investigation and dismissed the employee.

"It is the policy of the Louisiana Veterans Homes that all residents be treated with respect, dignity and as individuals," she said. "A resident's safety and security is of utmost concern to us at all times. This was an unexpected and unacceptable event that we do not condone and for the trauma visited upon Mr. Craft and the Craft family, we deeply apologize."

Payer said it's unclear how a miscommunication could result in such a delay in the administration learning about the incident. Immediately following the attack, two employees who saw it reported the incident to a member of the nursing staff.

But Payer said the staff is investigating why policies were not followed.

Kearia Wright, 27, of Ethel, was booked into East Feliciana Parish Prison for simple battery of persons with infirmities.

According to the police report, two witnesses saw Wright rear back and punch Craft in the face with a "closed fist." One employee told investigators that on the night of the incident Wright reported that Craft was found in a room he wasn't supposed to be in and tried to remove him.

"Craft comes out of the room and was swinging/moving his arms in a punching motion non aggressively towards Wright," the report said. The witness said she saw "Wright lean back and punch Craft in the face" and then "Craft grabbed his face with both hands and covered his eye."

When Craft was taken to the hospital a few days later, he was given a CAT scan.

The Jackson home is one of five state-run nursing homes that are reserved for veterans and their family. The Jackson Veteran Home has a capacity of 161 beds, but only about 125 people live there currently.

Faul said her family is still weighing whether her father will return to the facility.

The Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs has been in a state of flux for the past few years. A 2015 audit found that among other mismanagement problems, employees had failed to report potential crimes against veterans at the Veterans Homes in at least three incidents.

Payer said the department has been working to right the ship.

"There have been lots of improvements that have happened in the last 14 months," she said.

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©2017 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.
Visit The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. at www.theadvocate.com
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