PLAINS TOWNSHIP, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU)- Veterans, community members and politicians are rallying for policy changes at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Luzerne County.   

The controversy surrounds pandemic-imposed visitation restrictions in place for some of its resident veterans.  

Officials at the VA Medical Center say these safety precautions have prevented significant COVID-19 outbreaks from happening within its population. 

But many believe, it’s possible to balance safety with looser restrictions.  

More than 100 people hoisted flags and cheered as two veterans waived from afar outside the VA Medical Center in Plains Township.

Don Wilmont has been receiving care at the VA for more than two decades. He served as a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps from 1962 to 1967.  

“I was a door gunner in the helicopter, I was shot down three times.” Don Wilmont said.

Wilmont came out to show support for his brothers in the building who have to follow the rules and regulations.  

“I know it’s hard on the veterans that are hospitalized, it’s hard on their relatives, their loved ones, however, you have to look at the whole picture, we have to be safe. There’s a lot of serious illnesses in here, mostly from war experiences, I’ve been taken care of with all my PTSD, my Agent Orange problems, it’s just something that it’s no easy answer,” Wilmont said.

The crowd is calling on the medical center to ease its pandemic-imposed restrictions for veterans who call the VA home. They want to have more access to loved ones on the inside, and they believe they are being ignored. 

“Those recommendations need to be retracted, they need to be ripped up and they need to be shredded. They are outdated, we are not in 2020, Organizer and U.S. Navy Veteran Nicole Guest said.

Bill Klaips, Executive Assistant to the Director of the VA Medical Center, says the policies are in accordance with national guidelines.  

“Our residents are not locked in their rooms. They are free to mingle amongst themselves, on the ward there’s a ton of activities, group activities, games, entertainment. The staff has gone above and beyond to assure that. We’re also doing visitation. We’re not doing in-room visitation because we don’t want to bring people into the medical center, but what we are doing is door visits and outside visits where people can socially distance,” Klaips explained.

Guest says she won’t stop fighting for those who fought for our freedom.   

“They need interaction,” Guest concluded.

Klaips says since the onset of the pandemic, the VA has monitored community transmission rates on a daily basis, to assure the appropriate level of precautionary measures are being implemented.