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Veterans push for better medical services

Union Leader Correspondent

July 17. 2013 10:26PM
From left, U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) met with area veterans, including Toby Weir, of Gonic, who served as a military dog handler for the U.S. Army in Vietnam, to hear their concerns and offer her support during a forum in her Rochester office Tuesday morning. (John Quinn)

Rochester resident and Vietnam veteran Toby Weir speaks to Wilfred Gagnon, left, a staff assistant at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Manchester, and Tammy Krueger, acting director of VAMC, during a forum hosted by U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter Tuesday. John Quinn/?Union Leader

ROCHESTER – About 20 area veterans have asked U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter and officials from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to continue improving medical facilities in the state.

The veterans exchanged information during a forum at Shea-Porter’s office Tuesday morning.

Shea-Porter, D-N.H., said she hosted the event to hear from veterans and address concerns about the “backlog” of cases at the Manchester VA Medical Center and a “glitch” in accessing military records at the Department of Defense.

“It’s not enough to say ’thank you.’” Shea-Porter said, adding veterans deserve the benefits they earned.

State Rep. Linda Massimilla, D-Littleton, who represents Littleton and Bethlehem, said she attended the event to talk to Shea-Porter about how state officials can help improve veterans’ services, especially to restore a full Veterans Affairs medical center in the state.

“People are schlepping three to four hours to get to the (VA) hospital in Manchester or in White River Junction (Vermont),” Massimilla said, adding “that’s unacceptable.”

Shea-Porter welcomed Massimilla’s assistance and advised her to “call, beg, insist” that New Hampshire needs a full-service VA hospital or an equivalent program to care for veterans.

After the full VA hospital was closed several years ago, Shea-Porter said she’s attempted to have it re-opened in 2007 and 2009. She added Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., took the lead in 2011.

Shea-Porter said she re-introduced a bill to restore services again this year as New Hampshire was the only state to lose a full VA hospital.

In the meantime, the VA renewed a five-year contract with Concord Hospital to provide acute care for veterans. Depending on the need, some patients are treated at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, according to Tammy Krueger, acting director of the Manchester VA Medical Center.

Krueger estimated about 75 percent of New Hampshire veterans seeking assistance receive care in the state.

Shea-Porter hoped to improve the figures.

“I’m thrilled about the 75 percent, but it means one in four is not getting the help they deserve,” Shea-Porter said, adding in the meantime, she was hoping to hear suggestions to make the process more efficient.

Krueger said the VA recently expanded pain service and radiology, opened a new facility with 30 more examination rooms and an awning. She added the VA plans to extend hours for primary care and mental health programs by the end of the month.

She said the VA is still working to reduce the time it takes patients to receive care. She added there are “tiny delays” for dental and pain care services and “a little wait” for cardiology and gastro-intestinal cases.

“We received funding for that backlog — to the tune of $1 million,” Krueger said, adding the “backlogs” should be removed by the end of September.

Currently, most patients receive treatment within 30 days.

“Last year, we served over 23,000 veterans and there are many, many more in the state,” Krueger said, adding the VA gained 1,000 patients — including many Vietnam veterans at outreach programs — in the past year.

Krueger said the VA is also working to resolve a parking problem, as the facility lost some spaces following the recent expansion, and officials are in the process of repairing one of the three elevators in Manchester.

They are also working to resolve some technological issues to improve access to the results of medical tests from other VA facilities.

“There’s certainly room for improvement,” Krueger said.

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