CONCORD, N.H. — As the Department of Veterans Affairs looks to improve the troubled medical center in Manchester, veterans are making one thing clear: they want more services in the state including mental health treatment, same-day surgery and dental care.
Those are some of the findings from focus groups involving more than 120 New Hampshire veterans that will help shape the improvement of services at the Manchester Veterans Administration Medical Center.
It’s part of a widespread VA effort regain the trust of veterans after the Boston Globe reported earlier this year on a whistleblower complaint filed by physicians alleging substandard care at the state’s only veterans’ medical center.
The doctors described a fly-infested operating room, surgical instruments that weren’t always sterilized and patients whose conditions were ignored or weren’t treated properly.
A task force is will give its recommendation on services early next year.
“What we learned is there are a number of different opinions about what veterans’ care means based on who you ask. Staff members have one perspective, veterans have another,” said David Kenney, chairman of the New Hampshire State Veterans Advisory Committee and the co-chair of the VA New Hampshire Vision 2025 Task Force.
Veterans offered a long list of services they felt could be provided by the Manchester center, with many seeing the need for additional mental health and substance abuse services at a time when the state is struggling with an opioid crisis and military personal are returning home.
They also called for strengthening primary care services and expanding to services like same-day surgery, urology, orthopedics and even acupuncture. They’ve requested better dental care and more beds for long-term hospital stays.
Howie Howe, a Vietnam veteran from Manchester who has offered his feedback to the task force, said veterans want more services closer to home.
“The biggest thing is the transportation issue and the resentment to being sent out-of-state for services they think they should be able to get in-state,” he said.
After the Globe report, Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin said the state would look into it possibly becoming a full-service hospital again. But veterans were not convinced that a full-service hospital is the best option. Some welcomed more services at the Manchester hospital while others said they would rather get treated closer to home.
Howe added that many veterans think they should be able to go to a local health care provider and bill the VA.
Others also worried that New Hampshire wouldn’t have the patients to support a larger facility and that a regionalized approach made more sense.
“In the end, the foundational message we’ve heard from the veterans is they want quality health care, no matter where it’s delivered,” Kenney said. “Isn’t that what any reasonable person would want or expect?”