Manchester VA to hold open house and town hall Tuesday

  • Vietnam veteran Bob Martin and his daughter Kelley Murphy talk with medical personnel at the VA Medical Center during the facility’s open house on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Bob Martin knows the value of veteran-specific medical care.

Martin, who served in Vietnam, has been seeing doctors at the Manchester VA for 30 years. He said he likes that he doesn’t have to censor himself there, and that he can be around people who’ve had experiences similar to his.

“I feel the care is superior, and it seems more personal at the VA,” he said. “They’re more in tune to the patients’ causes or illnesses.”

The medical facility found itself in the national spotlight this summer after a group of doctors revealed years of mismanagement – and what they said was substandard care – that left some veterans with irreversible medical conditions that could have been treated and prevented.

Top VA officials appointed a task force to make recommendations for the future of the facility. The hospital has also been hosting regular town halls and listening sessions for veterans, the next of which will take place Tuesday afternoon.

Town halls have been opportunities for veterans to ask questions, explore their VA eligibility and to learn about other services at the Manchester VA, said Acting Medical Center Director Alfred Montoya Jr.

The upcoming Nov. 28 town hall, which will be preceded by an open house at the Manchester VA hospital, is scheduled to be an open forum where veterans can engage with VA officials to discuss their health care and benefits.

Founded in 1950, the Manchester VA is the state’s only medical center for veterans – though it is not a full-service hospital anymore.

Montoya, who worked as director of the White River Junction VA in Vermont, said he has been attending listening sessions and town halls, and is working closely with the task force.

“Town halls let us get out into the community; they let us get out with our veterans and showcase some of the changes that we’re making,” he said earlier this month.

Montoya said one change the hospital has implemented after hearing veterans’ feedback was to increase the hospital’s community care staff from 10 to 34 people, which should significantly cut wait times for eligible veterans.

He has consistently acknowledged that the problems at the Manchester VA built up over time, and they won’t be quick to fix.

Just days after the allegations of mismanagement surfaced, a pipe burst in the medical center, flooding the aging facility’s fourth floor surgical wing. Patients requiring surgery are still being transferred to the neighboring Catholic Medical Center for care.

Martin said it upsets him to hear people talk disparagingly about the VA.

“It kind of pisses me off because this facility, these people are the most caring, thoughtful – you couldn’t ask for a better staff,” he said.

Martin said he’s tried seeing physicians in private practice before, but it’s just not the same as the VA.

Manchester VA public affairs officer Kristin Pressly said numbers for veterans seeking help at the VA are still increasing.

In 2016, veterans served at the hospital totaled 25,971, and this year that figure rose to 26,094.

The open house will last from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., and the town hall and listening session from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Veterans, family members and the public are welcome. The event will take place in the first-floor Training and Education Room at the Medical Center, 718 Smyth Road, Manchester.

(Leah Willingham can be reached at 369-3322, lwillingham@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @LeahMWillingham.)