A retired Lt General has written an anguished letter to the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Bipin Rawat, alleging that there are inadequate arrangements in place to take care of retired service personnel and their dependants in the Covid pandemic and that “they have been left to fend for themselves”.
Lt Gen JS Bhatnagar (retd), former Director General Supply and Transport, has written the letter to the CDS on May 4 urging him on behalf of the veterans of Army, Navy and the Air Force, to issue instructions to the concerned officials to ensure that the veterans and their dependants are not refused or turned away for treatment/admission by the military hospitals.
The General has brought to the notice of the CDS that the veterans are not getting the required medical attention from Ex-Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS) in the present circumstances. “The pressure on the medical infrastructure of the country needs no elaboration. The retired defence personnel and their dependants are covered under ECHS which is under tremendous pressure in this hour of crises. The ECHS empanelled civil/private hospitals where the retired veterans and their dependants are required to be treated/admitted have shut their doors on them. And to make matters worse, we have opened the doors of military hospitals for the civil population to the tune of 15 per cent,” the letter states.
Asking where should the ex-servicemen and their dependants go in the present circumstances, Lt Gen Bhatnagar has complained that in the past couple of weeks a large number of retired defence personnel and their dependants have lost their lives because of refusal of treatment at the private hospitals and also the military hospitals.
“Leave aside personnel below officer rank, a retired Major General, a Brigadier and one more officer have died firstly due to denial of admission by Base Hospital Delhi cantonment and later while being shunted between Army Hospital (RR), Base Hospital and MH Meerut. It is indeed a matter of separate investigation. It amounts to betrayal of retired defence personnel who rose to the occasion in the hour of need and put their lives at stake in the service of the nation. The retired service personnel and their dependants have literally been left to fend for themselves,” the General says in the letter.
He added that on one hand the service personnel are expected to sacrifice their lives for the nation and on the other “we are shunning our responsibility to take care of them in the sunset years of their life by denying them the medical facilities which they richly deserve”.
When reached by The Indian Express, Lt Gen Bhatnagar confirmed that he had written the letter to the CDS.
There is also an audio recording of a retired Colonel circulating on the social media highlighting how he had been denied admission in Base Hospital Delhi cantonment and the DRDO facility in Palam.
“Go and see what is happening in front of the Base Hospital. People line up there for admission at 5 am. You get a wait list and token and if you do not get admission as per that number then you have to come again next day and start afresh with new waiting number,” the recording states.
All measures being taken to help veterans: Army
The Army has clarified that there are no long waiting lines at the entrance gate of Base Hospital and that all personnel, whether serving or veterans, and their dependents are guided to the reception centre by the administrative staff.
“At the reception, an immediate triaging takes place by qualified medical officers who then segregate the patients based on the severity of their diseases. The triage does not take more than 5-10 minutes. Based on the recommendations of the medical officer, the patients are either advised home isolation or sent for further admission,” an officer said.
He added that the waiting line inside the reception is due to capacity constraints of the hospital in general.
“The unprecedented situation in NCR, the very high number of patients seeking medical assistance and the refusal of ECHS empaneled hospitals to treat the veterans add to the overload in the hospital,” the officer said.
It was stated that separation of patients who require urgent and life-saving medical intervention from those whose treatment can be delayed by some time is purely a medical decision.
“This is being done because the hospital is receiving patients much in excess of its capacities. Concurrent efforts are on to enhance the capacities. The capacity was enhanced from 340 beds (including 250 oxygenated beds) to 650 beds (including 450 oxygenated beds) in end April. Work is in progress to enhance capacities to 950 oxygenated beds by May,” a statement issued by Army said.
The officer said all constructive criticism, suggestions are being taken note of and steps to enhance medical care are being implemented.