Veteran caught in web after stroke: ‘I just want to be free’
BY CASEY TONER firstname.lastname@example.org May 25, 2012 10:42PM
Terry Baker and his sister, Carol Fox, hold a poster about their brother, Ed Baker, a former Navy Lt. Cmdr. who is also ward of the state of Colorado, at her home in Midlothian, IL on Tuesday May 15, 2012. Ed Baker wants to live with his family in Chicago, but can't because of a court order that appointed a law firm his guardian and conservator. The family also wants him to come home. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 23, 2012 9:51AM
Ed Baker has gone through enough already.
The 53-year-old Dolton native spent 22 years in the Navy, serving in the Persian Gulf War before eventually retiring as a lieutenant commander. Then, four years ago, he suffered a major stroke that left the left side of his body paralyzed.
Now, all he wants is to come home from Colorado to his family in Illinois. And family members in Midlothian and New Lenox want that, too.
But Baker can’t. He can’t go anywhere, in fact. He hasn’t been free to make such decisions since almost two years ago, when a judge in Colorado — based on Baker’s condition after his stroke — approved a petition by the Arapahoe County Department of Human Services to appoint a guardian and conservator for him. The decision made Baker a ward of the state of Colorado and stripped him of many of his rights.
Baker now is a resident of the Sierra Healthcare Community nursing home in Lakewood, Colo. — apparently against his will. This despite the fact the Colorado Department of Veterans Affairs declared in January that Baker is competent to make personal decisions and handle the VA funds to which he is entitled, such as his monthly pension checks.
“I just want to be free,” Baker said during a telephone interview with the SouthtownStar earlier this month. “If I was in jail or if I did something wrong, I understand. But I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Baker said he would rather live with his brother, Terry Baker, in New Lenox, or his sister, Carolyn Fox, in Midlothian. Both said they would take him in, no questions asked.
“I don’t know whether it’s that I’m the oldest in an Irish family, but I have no question or doubt I can take care of him for the rest of his life,” Fox said. “I’m not afraid of that.”
Baker also has a 29-year-old daughter from his first marriage who lives in California and a 9-year-old son from his second marriage who lives in Virginia, whom he is unable to visit.
The legal tangle
Baker, the second oldest of five siblings, joined the Navy when he was 17 while he was a senior at Thornridge High School and served from June 16, 1976 to June 30, 1998.
He suffered a major stroke in November 2007 that paralyzed the left side of his body. The stroke caused him to suffer speech impediments, vision problems, mood disorder and epilepsy, among other problems.
In 2009, he moved in with another sister, Joanne Rupprecht, in Colorado. Rupprecht and her husband assumed power of attorney over his financial and medical decisions, and Baker went to a nearby hospital for rehabilitation.
But in June 2010, Rupprecht, in a filing with the Arapahoe County Court, said Baker had been hostile to her and had accused her of stealing his property, among other issues, records show.
A letter from a Colorado doctor said Baker lacked the ability to make medical and financial decisions based on his stroke-related disabilities. The doctor recommended that a conservator and guardian be appointed, according to the letter.
A month later, Arapahoe County assistant county attorney Virginia Byrnes Horton petitioned the court to appoint a guardian and conservator for Baker, records show.
“The outcome of this proceeding may limit or completely take away (Baker’s) right to make decisions about (his) personal affairs or financial affairs or both,” the petition said.
A judge granted the petition, appointing Colorado attorney Tamara Palmer as the conservator of Baker’s estate. Karen Buchanan, a national certified guardian, later was named Baker’s guardian.
Baker lost a lot of say over his future that day, according to Jennifer Reeves, the long-term care ombudsman for the Denver Regional Council of Government.
“When someone is court-appointed a guardian, that person is in the picture calling a good amount of their shots,” Reeves said. “One loses a fair amount of rights and autonomy when a guardian is appointed.”
Fox said Rupprecht didn’t inform her about the court’s decision. Terry Baker said by the time he heard about it, it was too late for him to act.
Rupprecht declined to comment for this story.
The fight continues
Baker’s family and support system haven’t given up yet. The next hearing in his case is scheduled for July, and Ralph Bozella, the United Veterans Committee of Colorado president, said he and about a dozen other veterans plan to show up to support Baker.
Bozella said he visited Baker at the nursing home in March and he believes Baker is getting a “raw deal.”
“I know he’s being held against his will,” Bozella said. “He wants to get out of Colorado and out of this system.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs in Colorado said in January 2011 that Baker is able to manage personal affairs as well as his VA funds, reversing a decision it made just a couple of months earlier. But the department has no jurisdiction.
Palmer, the appointed conservator and an attorney at the Colorado law firm Palmer, Goertzel & Associates, doesn’t agree with the finding anyway.
“The veterans administration can think what they want,” she said. “The veterans administration doesn’t come to hearings, and they haven’t participated even though they have been invited.”
Palmer said that as conservator, her role isn’t to take sides but to serve at the bidding of the judge.
“I’m not his doctor,” Palmer said. “I’m not his lawyer. I’m a fiduciary, and I serve at the pleasure of the judge. If I’m in, I’m in. If I’m out, I’m out.”
Palmer also said that Baker is “distributing parcel and parts of what they want to see.
“I don’t know why people in Chicago are doing anything,” Palmer said. “They do not have all the pieces. They just don’t.”
Declining to go into specifics, she scoffed when asked about Baker’s desire to go home.
“He would like to go lots of places,” she said.