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Changing trends will keep veterans care evolving

New Hampshire’s only veterans hospital tailors services by constantly evaluating who needs care, what they’re coming in for and where they want to see their doctor, the hospital director said yesterday, a day after getting high marks for seeing veterans relatively quickly.

The Manchester VA Medical Center saw about 24,000 patients last year, 98 percent of whom had an appointment scheduled within 30 days of when they wanted to be seen. That figure, according to audits conducted by the federal Veterans Affairs Department and released Monday, is higher than the national average of 96 percent. Still, 118 patients in Manchester were on a list for those who couldn’t get an appointment within 90 days.

Tammy Krueger, the medical center’s director, said the hospital studies trends in both health care and population then puts resources where they’re needed to address current needs. For example, care related to pain management, ears, eyes and cancer are in higher demand as veterans get older, while a growing number of female veterans require different kinds of care.

At the same time, she said, more of the care can be provided on an outpatient basis.

“Knowing what our projections are and where they receive their care helps us project for the future,” she said.

The audits come amid a burgeoning scandal for the Veterans Affairs Department after reports emerged two months ago of cover-ups and of patients dying while awaiting appointments at the Phoenix VA center. A preliminary report last month found that long patient waits and falsified records were systematic through the network, and the uproar forced VA secretary Eric Shinseki to resign.

In Manchester, new patients wait an average of about 20 days to see a primary care provider while waits for specialists or mental providers are longer at 38 and 23 days, respectively. Those figures are on the low end of the national wait times, and Krueger said that’s because her hospital has put more resources into specialty care.

The hospital has 671 employees – one-third of them veterans – and plans to increase staff to 719 “as soon as possible,” Krueger said. Resources will shift again as World War II and Korean War veterans leave the system, replaced by those who served in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mary Morin, director of New Hampshire’s State Office of Veterans Services, said she has “full faith” in the Manchester center.

There are about 117,000 veterans in New Hampshire, about a third of which get health care through the VA.

“I am satisfied,” Krueger said of the audit findings. “I think the staff works extremely hard. I very proud of the team but we always ask the question, ‘What can we do better?’ ”

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