TILTON — U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte told a group of veterans at the New Hampshire Veterans Home on Tuesday that she is among those working hard to establish a full-service veterans hospital in the state.
Although New Hampshire has the sixth-largest per-capita veteran population in the country with 130,000 veterans — a number that continues to grow as troops return from major deployments — it remains the only state that does not have a full-service veterans hospital for veterans who have unique needs and require special courses of treatment.
More than 10 years ago, the Manchester VA Medical Center (VAMC) was downsized from a full-service hospital, forcing Granite State veterans requiring specialized care to go to veterans hospitals in other states.
In 2010, on average, 230 veterans a month were sent to Boston for consultations with doctors in specialties not offered at Manchester.
Upon request, veterans are provided with transportation by volunteer veteran service groups, but visits frequently take an entire day and often involve travel during rush hour.
The Manchester VAMC has five outpatient clinics, but they can’t help many patients needing specialized care.
“Senator Shaheen and I have sponsored legislation to establish a full-service hospital for you, so we’re trying our hardest to do something about this problem,” Ayotte told veterans on Tuesday.
Ayotte also touched on other issues as she took questions from the veterans as they ate lunch in the home’s cafeteria.
“You’re going to be hearing the term ‘sequestration’ a lot as we go forward. The issue is the proposed massive defense cuts that would leave us with the smallest U.S. Army since 1940 and the smallest U.S. Navy since 1950,” she said, explaining that she has joined U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in pushing legislation to stop the cuts.
“The priority is keeping our country safe,” she said.
Ayotte, who is married to a U.S. Air Force veteran, met with several veterans, listening to their stories and answering questions during her 60-minute visit.
Serving on the Senate Armed Service Committee has given her an appreciation for veterans of all branches of the military, she said.
“Our men and women serving now are incredible, just as you were incredible,” Ayotte said, looking around the room. “We can’t thank you enough, folks, for what you’ve done.”
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Dan Seufert may be reached at email@example.com.