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Deborah Amdur, director of the VA Medical Center in White River Junction, speaks with David Austin of Hinsdale, N.H., during a visit to the Brattleboro Outpatient Clinic on July 2 for an open house.

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A big responsibility

Head of White River Junction VA hospital visits Brattleboro clinic, reassures veterans

BRATTLEBORO—In the wake of recent reports of major problems at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs facilities around the country, Deborah Amdur, director of the VA Medical Center in White River Junction, wanted to make it clear that her hospital is fulfilling the mission of delivering quality health care to the region’s military veterans.

“We take our mission very, very seriously,” Amdur said during a visit to the Brattleboro Outpatient Clinic on July 2 for an open house. “We’re fortunate to have a very committed staff. About a third of our staff are veterans themselves. They are truly committed to not only making sure the care is excellent, but that we also have good access.”

She defines good access as not only getting veterans the care need in a timely manner, but also having the capacity to deal with patients’ medical issues as they come up.

She said the VA system is unique in that “the care is very comprehensive. It’s not just about just the medical appointment, but about the whole person. That includes everything from mental health services and support, to job re-training, to homeless services.”

Amdur, who has more than 20 years of experience working in the VA system, wants the region’s veterans to know “we’re here for them,” but admits the VA needs to do a better job making veterans, particularly the younger ones from our most recent wars, aware of the services and benefits for which they may be eligible.

“We’re not your grandfather’s VA,” she said.

Amdur said she believes that veterans should have their own health care system because “they do have unique challenges from their time in the military and the VA is particularly set up to meet those needs.”

She said she has made many visits to the Brattleboro clinic since 2012, when she took over as head of the White River Junction VA.

“I think we have a truly exceptional team here, and team is really the key word,” she said. “We have everyone working together to ensure veterans are getting the care they need.”

One part of the Brattleboro clinic that has become a national leader among its peers is its Tele-Health program. Using a live, two-way secure television link between Brattleboro and doctors in White River Junction and the Boston area, patients can have direct access to specialists without leaving town.

Amdur said Tele-Health has been invaluable for veterans living in Southern Vermont and Western Massachusetts, who go to Brattleboro and avoid the long ride to White River Junction or Boston.

Nonetheless, the facility in White River Junction is expanding. One major addition is the Residential Recovery Center, which helps veterans who have substance abuse problems or mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and depression.

“It’s a six-week program that isvery intensive,” she said. “It’s a place I visit on a regular basis, and one of the things I hear from the veterans in the program is that it saved their lives.”

She said more than 200 people have completed the program in the past two years, and some have gone on to get jobs in the program counseling their fellow veterans.

Another expansion is the Women’s Comprehensive Care Center, which Amdur said reflects the growing number of female veterans in the VA system and the need to provide gender-specific health care.

Amdur said that any institution as large as the VA is not without flaws, but she believes the people working in White River Junction, and at the community-based outpatient clinics scattered around Vermont and New Hampshire, are doing their jobs well.

“We’re not about numbers,” she said. “We’re about giving veterans what they need.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #262 (Wednesday, July 9, 2014). This story appeared on page A1.

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