Don’t smoke them if you got them: VA bans all smoking on their property

Published 8:37 am Thursday, October 3, 2019

The Hershel Woody Williams VA medical center in Huntington, West Virginia recently banned smoking at its facilities and that is not sitting well with some veterans.

The outside smoking ban at all 4,000 VA facilities went into effect on Tuesday and the ban includes patients, employers and visitors.

Justin Kerns, a 70-year-old U.S. Army veteran, had a simple request for them.

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“Just leave us alone,” he said. “We don’t want to offend anybody. We try not to, we go to the designated smoking area and we bother nobody. What else are you going to take away from the veterans?”

Kerns said the VA tried to do a similar ban 15 or 20 years ago, but the VA relented after complaints. At the Huntington facility, they built outdoor smoking shelters with ventilation.

“It is off the main walkway, non-smokers don’t even have to go in that direction,” he said. “Now they blocked that off and took it all away on the grounds of the VA, which is probably two miles from one end to the other.”

People are not even allowed to smoke in their parked cars.

He said that it was the military who got a lot of the veterans hooked on smoking.

“We know it is not good for us. But it was something the government introduced to us, because a lot of vets didn’t smoke before they went into the service,” Kerns said. “But if you were in formation, they said ‘Smoke if you got them.’ Well, the ones that didn’t smoke found themselves on work details, so the first thing they did was start smoking. And, with your C-rations, they furnished cigarettes.”

Kerns said that for many veterans, smoking is a stress reliever.

“And for those people that get a little bit of relief from smoking to ease their pain, they’ve taken that away,” Kerns said. “If you are up there for eight or 10 hours, it is stressful for smokers. You got veterans without legs, without an arm and smoking is their one little relief they have. Please don’t take that away.”

And he said the VA is serious about it.

On Tuesday, he walked around the VA grounds with an unlit cigarette in his mouth and was stopped and talked to by security officers.

“I wanted to see what would happen. I was challenged several times about that,” he said.

Kerns said that he has called his congressmen and others about the issue and has yet to hear back from anyone.

Kerns said that today there will be a ceremony at the Hershel Woody Williams VA and that West Virginia’s U.S. senators Joe Manchin and Shirley Moore Capito might be there and he and a couple other veterans are planning a small protest against the smoking ban. They plan to set up across from the VA property.

“It will be a small protest on private property. Maybe light up a smoke while they are talking,” he said, with a laugh. “We are going to ask them to come and talk to us.”

While Kerns acknowledges that smoking isn’t good for his health, he said at his age, he isn’t too worried about it.

“I’m 70 years old. I’ve smoked my whole life, it isn’t helping my health to quit now,” he said. “Whenever you get to a certain age, you aren’t going to change. You’re punishing a few for the sake of even less than a few.”