Homeless quadriplegic veteran living outside VA struggles to get healthcare

VIDEO: Navy veteran says V-A hospital continues to reject him for care

UPDATE: KIRO 7's Deedee Sun has learned that Rep. Adam Smith, of Washington state's 9th District, helped Mike Mikesell find safe housing Friday afternoon.

"Thank you to all of the concerned community members who have contacted my office about Mike, the veteran living outside of the Seattle VA.  Today, together with the hard work of caseworkers and advocates from around the area we were all able to help Mike receive the care he needs.  As a first step, Mike has received approval to receive a housing voucher and this afternoon will be transitioning to safe housing.  He will also continue to receive the health care and services he needs via the local VA. We are all committed to continuing to help Mike get the help he needs," Rep. Smith posted on Facebook Friday.

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A Navy Vet who is a quadriplegic has many health care needs. But he -- and the people trying to help him -- say the VA hospital in Seattle continues to reject him for care.

Mike Mikesell is 49 years old. He’s a Navy veteran who was honorably discharged, according to a document from the Department of Veterans Affairs office.

He needs medical service so often he's stuck living in a tent just feet from the VA Puget Sound Health Care System. Mikesell said he had a good paying job, but then he got very sick -- and suddenly ended up homeless.

Mikesell said he worked at Boeing until he developed an infection while on a trip to Mexico in 2016.

“I went from that to this overnight,” Mikesell said. The infection spread to his spine and left him a quadriplegic.

“I’m dead from the armpits down,” he said.

Shortly after that, he lost his housing.

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In October 2017, he started living in a tent just outside the VA Hospital in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood.

“I can’t leave the hospital because there’s always some ailment happening. It wouldn’t be this way if I could wash up in a bathroom,” Mikesell said.

Since becoming homeless, his situation has continued to decline. His reclining electric wheelchair broke and now he struggles with a manual one that doesn’t recline.

“I’ve been sleeping in this chair for a long time,” Mikesell said.

“It’s torturing me not to give me an electric wheelchair. I can barely move myself along the ground with this thing and it’s really made things really difficult just trying to get into the hospital. I have that hill to go up,” he said.

In June, Linda Soriano learned about Mikesell’s story. Soriano lives in Lynwood and tries to help people who are homeless on her own time.

“It hurts me a lot,” Soriano said after learning about Mikesell’s story.

She and a friend, Pam Keeley, shared it on Facebook with Mikesell's consent.

They detailed what Mikesell is going through - how he needs a catheter, a colostomy bag, and deals with chronic infections.

“He suffers. He suffers!” Soriano said. “We’re not asking to treat this man like royalty. But that they would pay more attention and have a little more empathy and compassion.”

The Facebook post has been shared more than 11,000 times as of Wednesday evening. But Soriano points out despite all the shares, Mikesell is still in a tent, outside the VA.

“What does it take? Does this man have to die?” Soriano said.

She and Keeley reached out to Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal’s (D-WA 7th District) office, and a staff member helped Mikesell secure a visit with a doctor, and got him a housing voucher.

But just hours later, Mike was back out on the street.

“He’s a high needs individual and many of our services, including the veteran’s hospital, are not set up to take up these high need individuals. He now is back on the streets and I think it is a tragic situation,” Jayapal said. “Mike’s conditions -they make it challenging for him to get housing. So even though he has a housing voucher, we can’t get him in.”

She plans to work on legislation that would bring more federal money to high-needs veterans.

But Mikesell can't wait for legislation.

He’s worried he won’t survive another winter out here.

“Hopeless,” Mikesell said with tears in his eyes. “I don’t know how much longer I can do this.”

The VA said Mikesell needs to sign a consent form before they can say anything about his case. As Wednesday night, KIRO7’s Deedee Sun got Mikesell to sign the form and sent it to the hospital. The VA said it will provide more detailed commentary about why it is not able to provide the level of care Mikesell believes he qualifies for and deserves.

A spokesperson for the VA said the hospital will be reaching out to Mikesell directly to address his concerns.

In the meantime, it sent this statement:

"We care passionately about the health and well-being of our Veterans.  We take pride in providing each of our patients with evidence-based medicine, and in our ability to help them understand the recommended courses of care as well as the programs and services available to them.  Ultimately, it is the choice of each of our Veterans about the care they pursue.   And we respect their rights and privacy about the choices they make.  Veterans can find out more info about our services and programs by visit our website: www.pugetsound.va.gov."

Jayapal said she is also working with Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA 9th District), who represents the district where Mikesell is living, to follow up with his case.

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