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Vietnam vet happy to be back in Durham’s VA hospital, but for how long?

Disabled Vietnam vet refuses to leave VA hospital

Officials at the Durham VA Medical Center have discharged James Donald Francis. But the disabled Vietnam veteran refuses to leave.
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Officials at the Durham VA Medical Center have discharged James Donald Francis. But the disabled Vietnam veteran refuses to leave.

A Vietnam veteran and double-amputee said things are “perfect” now that he is back in Durham’s Veterans Administration Medical Center, where he has lived for a little more than three years.

But James Donald Francis, 69, said he’s worried because VA officials have not told him or given him any documentation about how long he will be able to stay at the VA’s Community Living Center.

“I haven’t signed anything,” he said. “I could be here for a good night’s sleep and the next morning they could put me out of here. I haven’t seen anything. I’m in limbo. That’s where I am.”

Francis spent two days this week staying in the lobby of the facility. He refused to leave when the VA told him he had to go to an assisted living facilty.

Durham VA officials have not commented about where Francis will be staying in the future, except to say it probably won’t be at their facility.

A statement from the Durham VA on Friday afternoon said, “Prior to release, we provided Mr. Francis several assisted living options within the community, however, over time it became apparent that he did not feel comfortable with those choices and wished only to remain at Durham VA. Medical care and treatment is ever-changing and that transition at times can be very difficult for our patients. We will continue to work side-by-side with Mr. Francis to provide him the proper care he has earned and deserves while we search for a suitable follow-on solution that meets his health and social needs.”

Francis lost his legs after he was stricken with Agent Orange-related diabetes while fighting in Vietnam.

Sharonda Pearson, a Durham VA spokeswoman, said Francis, who undergoes dialysis treatment three times a week at the VA hospital, no longer met the medical criteria for acute in-patient care. He was discharged Monday. Francis said he returned from dialysis that day to find the door to his room locked and his belongings stuffed in several bags.

Francis then camped out in his motorized wheelchair at the patient entrance from Monday until Wednesday. By late Wednesday afternoon, the VA had a change of heart and said he would be allowed to move back into the hospital’s community-based living center, at least momentarily.

The combat veteran is currently living on the second floor of the Community Living Center.

“Everything is going fine right now, for the next five minutes,” he said Thursday. “You know how things can change.”

He said he has been able to assume the daily routine he had before his discharge Monday.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website, the Community Living Center resembles “home” as much as possible. There are activities for veterans of all ages and family friendly places for visiting. Veterans are invited to decorate their rooms, and pets are allowed to visit or live at the facility.

The website said veterans may stay for a short time or, in rare instances, for the rest of their life, while receiving a nursing home-level of care that includes help with activities of daily living such as bathing and getting dressed.

On Thursday, a nurse visited Francis’ room, provided him with a bedpan and rolled him to the side so he could relieve himself. The nurse, after bathing and clothing him, hoisted Francis out of bed and into his wheelchair. He rolled into the bathroom to brush his teeth and shave before going to breakfast. He was given an insulin shot, and his blood sugar level was checked for the first time since Monday.

“I been listening to the blues, but mostly talking to people here who I hadn’t seen. It’s been pretty much a normal day,” he said. “But once I go to the bathroom and come out, I don’t know if my bags are going to be packed up or what.”

Thomasi McDonald: 919-829-4533, @thomcdonald

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