Mercy for veterans

TUPPER LAKE – The Mercy Living Center nursing home is now approved by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide care to veterans specifically, and one new resident is thrilled about that.

His name is William Lyon, and he remembers his time as an Army combat veteran in World War II with vivid clarity.

Lyon remembers how the American tank-landing ships approached the shore, but they never got as close as planned because the tide was low.

“We ran aground, so they dropped the ramps and yelled, ‘Run!'” Lyon said. “So we ran.”

The soldiers made a break for the shore, and German troops were waiting for them on a ledge overlooking the beach with 88-millimeter artillery guns, which were commonly used to bring down aircraft and tanks.

The Germans opened fire as the American troops bolted for the shore. Lyon estimated that his unit lost more than half of its men.

“I looked back, just once or twice, and the water was red with blood,” Lyon said. “It was a terrible sight.”

The guns were powerful, but they had a weakness.

“I knew that because I had been with (Gen. George) Patton and the artillery,” Lyon said. “Once you get close enough, the guns would only drop so far, and you’d have it made.”

Lyon’s unit’s mission was to make crossing the Rhine River into Germany possible by placing floating bridges there. The bridges consisted of steel treadway on rubber pontoons and were much faster to put in place than building a bridge would be. Once finished, the floating bridges would enable anything, from personnel to tanks, to cross the river.

The men made it to the Rhine and were greeted by Soviet soldiers, who opened fire from the opposite side of the river. After fighting them off, the U.S. troops got half of the floating bridge in place when a band of Germans upstream unleashed a bunch of barges, which floated down river and crashed into the bridge, destroying it.

The unit retrieved more supplies from a nearby depot in Marseilles, France, before they could rebuild what was destroyed.

In the end, the mission was successful, a fact Lyon attributed to Patton’s leadership.

“Patton had said, ‘Give me the men and I’ll knock Russia off the map,'” Lyon said. “He was the best general the United States has ever seen. We called him ‘Blood and Guts Patton.’ It was his blood and your guts.”

Lyon met Patton in North Africa in 1942 and from there went to Italy. He served in the Army for four years and walked away from his service with a Bronze Star for bravery in combat.

The 90-year-old Bloomingdale native now lives at the Mercy Living Center in Tupper Lake. He is the first veteran to live there since the health center received its VA approval on Jan. 9. Lyon gets regular visits from friends and family who live nearby.

“I am so happy to be here,” Lyon said. “You couldn’t put it into words how happy I am. Bar none. I’ve been in four nursing homes counting here, and this is the best.”

Elena Vega-Castro, the assistant vice president of longterm care at Mercy, applied for VA approval about nine months ago. The facility will be inspected annually to maintain that approval.

“It’s another market for Mercy,” Vega-Castro said. “Now this will be the only facility this far north next to Albany, or Burlington or Saratoga.”

Mercy was approved by the VA because it met a number of quality factors, which included a sprinkler system, past survey results, services offered and staffing.

“They look at nursing hours and compared ours to the state average,” said Vega-Castro, who is a veteran herself. “The state average is one hour, 33 minutes per nursing staff, per resident. The facility average here is one hour, 45 minutes.”

Vega-Castro said the facility also has short-term rehab for occupational, speech and physical therapists on site.

To be eligible, the veteran has to have at least a 60 percent service-connected disability. The only exception is hospice, which can pick them up regardless of disability.

VA approval offers veterans more than a quality seal for health-care services.

“We’ve had veterans here, but in a case like Mr. Lyon, he’d have to apply for Medicaid to be here,” Vega-Castro said. “When you apply for Medicaid, you have to turn over all your income to the nursing home, minus $50. This (VA approval) allows the veteran to keep his income and his pension, so it really helps them.”

Contact Shaun Kittle at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or