Berlin Reporter: VA to open 2 part-time Coös clinics, thanks to bipartisan efforts
COOS COUNTY — U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, U. S. Senator Kelly Ayotte, a Republican, and Second District Congresswoman Annie Kuster announced two weeks ago that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will open two part-time VA health care clinics in Berlin and Colebrook by the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30.
The announcement of the VA approval of an expansion plan for the White River Junction (WRJ) VA Medical Center in Vermont to incorporate VA sites in both Berlin and Colebrook is the result of the trio writing letters and giving on-record testimony seeking to establish accessible VA medical care facilities for North Country veterans.
Both senators are members of the Senate Armed Services Committee; Kuster serves on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
The new part-time clinics will offer primary and preventive health care, lab draws, and tele-health services through a shared staffing model with existing health care clinics.
The part-time health care clinics will potentially help to serve more than 2,500 veterans in local and surrounding areas.
"North Country veterans have faced obstacles getting health care for far too long, and the opening of new clinics is long overdue," Shaheen explained in a phone call on Wednesday from the Seacoast. "Veterans in Coös County have suffered hardships by having to travel long distances to Littleton, Conway, Manchester, White River Junction and even Massachusetts to receive needed care. This has been difficult for veterans during the winter months, especially for those with chronic illnesses and conditions.
"Major procedures will still be done at other locations, but pre-surgical and surgical follow-ups plus routine physical checkups will soon be able to be done locally." She noted that she has received lots of letters from veterans and heard repeatedly about this important issue when hosting roundtable discussions in both Berlin and Colebrook.
In addition, Shaheen noted, these new VA clinics will be good for both the Androscoggin Valley and Upper Connecticut Valley Hospitals.
"This is terrific news for North Country veterans who deserve access to the same quality health care as those living in more populated areas of the state," Ayotte said in a prepared statement. "I will also continue to urge the VA to establish expanded contractual services with a North Country partner to provide inpatient care."
Kuster recalled in a Thursday afternoon telephone call that she had urged VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to expand access to veterans' health care in Coös when she attended her first small-group breakfast meeting with him and his staff shortly after she arrived in Washington, DC.
"I heard about the issue at the recent Vietnam War veterans 'welcome home' event in Whitefield," Kuster explained. She said that she'd been concerned that the VA would believe it had to choose between Colebrook and Berlin, and she'd been very pleased that it had included both sites in its expansion plans.
Kuster noted that being able to use today's technology — digitizing medical records to provide medical professionals with seamless access from multiple locations and providing video tele-health options, including for mental health issues should allow Coös vets to receive the excellent medical services they deserve.