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World War II veteran’s luck holds

Contracted services allow 95-year-old to stay at Hale Makua

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono speaks with Hale Makua resident Bill Wimberley, 95, a World War II combat veteran, while his son Ray Wimberley (second from left) and daughter Susan Wimberley look on Friday at the Kahului facility. Although a pilot U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs program ended Jan. 31 for providing nursing home care to veterans on Maui, a new contract arrangement was worked out, with Hirono’s intervention, to continue care for veterans at the nursing home.

Bill Wimberley’s a lucky man.

The 95-year-old survived five major battles during World War II after being deposited by glider deep behind enemy lines in Burma as an Army airborne soldier. He made it home to eastern Washington state, where he went to law school on the GI Bill and became a successful trial lawyer in Spokane. In 1978 he retired to Maui Meadows, where he and his wife raised four children, all of whom still live on Maui.

But, for a while, it looked like his luck might have run out, daughter Susan Wimberley said Monday.

Declining health in 2013 sent Wimberley to Hale Makua in Kahului, where a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pilot nursing home provider agreement covered much of his expenses. With the program expiring this year, the VA didn’t have a way to keep Wimberley in a nursing home on Maui. It looked like he may have had to move to Oahu.

“We’ve lived here since 1978. We’re part of the community,” Susan Wimberley said, explaining how such a move would be a hardship. “Three (of the siblings) continue to work here. It would be untenable. We’ve never lived on Oahu. We wanted him to stay home, to stay where he belongs.”

Learning of the situation, not only for Wimberley but a few other veterans at Hale Makua, U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono stepped in. And that eventually led to Hale Makua becoming a nursing home contractor for the VA on Maui.

“Facilities like Hale Makua who are committed to serving our veterans should be able to do so,” Hirono said in announcing the solution. “Our veterans deserve access to health care services in their own communities, and I will continue to work to find solutions like the new agreement between Hale Makua and the VA.”

“It’s a huge relief,” Susan Wimberley said. “We really didn’t know if he’d survive a move to Oahu.”

Since Bill Wimberley broke his leg last year, he’s been confined to a wheelchair or his bed. So moving him has become very difficult, his daughter said.

And, if he were to have moved to Oahu, he would have lost regular contact with his children, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren on Maui, she said.

“One of his kids sees him every day,” she said. “We’re really involved with his care at Hale Makua.”

Susan Wimberley said that when she visits her father, she reads the newspaper to him to feed his interest in politics, and she feeds and clothes him when needed.

Hale Makua Health Services Chief Executive Officer Wesley Lo said his agency’s contract with the VA is for five years.

The services Hale Makua provides the veterans are based on Medicare rates, he said.

Service-connected veterans are covered 100 percent, he said, but there may be shared costs that the VA would ask the veteran to pay, he said.

Lo said he was grateful that a solution was worked out.

“I strongly believe that as an asset to Maui’s community, Hale Makua has a duty to care for our veterans,” he said. “We are dedicated to doing whatever it takes to ensure that veterans can receive nursing home care without having to travel to another island.”

Since 2013, Hale Makua has been the only Maui nursing home to provide services to veterans under a VA provider agreement pilot program, according to the announcement from Hirono’s office. Last year, the VA decided not to continue the program and allowed the remaining agreements to terminate on Jan. 31.

Lo said the VA continued to pay for services from Jan. 31 to March 31, while the new arrangement was being worked out.

That meant that Hale Makua needed to become a federal contractor. Hirono helped expedite the process. Hale Makua’s contract with the VA went into effect Sunday.

Under the new contract, all veterans enrolled in VA health care are eligible for respite and hospice care, and those veterans with a service-connected rating of 70 percent or higher are eligible for short-term rehab and long-term care.

Susan Wimberley’s siblings include Ray Wimberley, a practicing attorney in Wailuku; Marc Wimberley, a teacher at Kalama Intermediate School; and Barbara Wimberley, a teacher at Waihee Elementary School, she said.

Susan Wimberley is a retired county risk management official in California. She said she took early retirement to come home to take care of her mom and dad. Her mother, Constance Ann Wimberley, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran, died in 2013, and her father visits her grave at the Maui Veterans Cemetery in Makawao when he’s able to do so, she said.

* Brian Perry can be reached at bperry@mauinews.com.

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