Saying lawmakers too often ignore Arizona’s veterans unless there is a crisis, a state representative visited the Arizona State Veteran Home on Wednesday to deliver books and share a native prayer with a fellow Navajo.
“Legislators don’t always take the time to come by the home to visit until there’s a crisis,” said Rep. Albert Tom, D-Chambers. “Veterans are my No. 1 priority.”
The home came under fire in March when state health inspectors cited multiple instances of patient neglect. The controversy led to the resignation of Patrick Chorpenning, director of the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services.
Tom sponsored the “Sunshine Drive” to collect books and magazines for the home’s residents. Legislators and staff from the House and Senate donated to the book drive.
After dropping off the books, Tom prayed in Navajo with Eddie Johnson, a 59-year-old Vietnam veteran from an area near Ganado. He presented Johnson with an eagle feather, an item sacred to Navajos.
Johnson, who uses a wheelchair, has lived at the home for the last two years. He served in the Air Force from 1968 to 1972.
“The prayer shows him he is going to walk out of this place,” Tom said afterward. “It’s just a matter to get the creator to listen to us.”
“I will cherish this feather,” Johnson said. “It shows that there’s people who care.”
Tom, who said this was his third meeting with Johnson at the home, said more people ought to take time to visit with the veterans.
“They’ve got stories to tell, something deep inside them,” he said. “Physically, mentally and spiritually, we should be there for them.”
Officials from the home were pleased to have Tom donate the books and spend time with Johnson.
“Anytime one of our elected officials can stop by, it’s special,” said Dave Hampton, a spokesman for the Department of Veterans’ Services.