Veterans turn out to cheer opening of Keene VA clinic
KEENE - Friday afternoon's gray skies and rain could not dampen the joy of area veterans at the grand opening of the long-awaited U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical clinic and Veterans Center on Route 101.
"You've done a good thing. Thank you very much," said 70-year-old U.S. Army veteran James Devine of Sullivan to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen as he shook her hand.
As governor, she was remembered at the grand opening as being a key supporter of the clinic and center, which Keene area veterans have been seeking for years.
"Despite the rain, it is a very good day in Keene," said Shaheen to the crowd of more than 50 sitting under a tent in the parking lot.
Both the VA Clinic and adjacent Veterans Center opened a few weeks ago.
The clinic's satellite office of the VA Medical Center is in White River Junction, Vt., and provides primary care as well as mental health services. "It’s such an uplifting feeling to finally have a veteran’s clinic here in Keene," said Robert Walton, Medical Center director of the VA Medical Center at White River Junction.
The clinic and the center are separate but complimentary services provided by the Veterans Administration, said William Busby, Veterans Centers Northeast Regional Director.
"This is a unique situation to have us close to a VA clinic," he said.
The veteran’s center provides counseling to veterans who have experienced combat or sexual trauma. The center also provides family counseling and grief counseling for families.
Over the past five years the VA has increased its Veteran Centers from 200 to 300 locations across the country in order to expand counseling services.
"This represents what is going on in all the different regions," Busby said. "We go where the veterans are."
Busby said the Veterans Center is staffed by two fulltime counselors. He added that with or without an appointment veterans are welcome to come to the Veterans Center for a cup of coffee. "We want to promote that type of socialization for veterans. They don’t have to have an appointment to come here. This is their facility."
Shaheen said increasing the accessibility of VA services is even more vital as more and more servicemen and woman return from Iraq and Afghanistan. As of this month, 32,000 veterans have returned wounded from the Iraq and 14,000 have returned wounded from Afghanistan, she said. "I’m very glad that now we can keep the promise to you that now when you come back to the Keene area we can have services for you," Shaheen said.
Opening the clinic and center is about bringing VA services closer to veterans, she said.
Before the clinic and center opened area veterans had to travel more than 60 miles to White River Junction or Manchester to receive services.
"It’s time that it opened," said army veteran Jimmy Stewart of Keene. "A lot of veterans have been looking forward to it."