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Assistant VA secretary praises NH for cooperation

MANCHESTER - Veterans Administration Assistant Secretary L. Tammy Duckworth was impressed with the cooperation among military and social service agencies to address the needs of veterans in New Hampshire.

Duckworth helped open the Dalianis House for homeless veterans in Nashua and toured the Manchester Veterans Administration Medical Center yesterday in her first visit to the Granite State.

The VA and National Guard work closely together, "which is not the case across the country," she said. "I was pretty impressed; you're more developed than a lot of plans across the country."

She noted the Dalianis home has been welcomed with open arms by the community, something that is not always the case. "Often when we build a new facility, many people don't want us near them," she said.

While New Hampshire remains one of the few states without a full-service veterans hospital, Duckworth said her agency is continually reviewing population trends and needs for medical facilities, but she couldn't address New Hampshire specifically.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who toured the Manchester medical center with Duckworth, said many veterans continue to have difficulty traveling to obtain services, although last year a contract with Concord Hospital allows them to obtain services at that facility as well.

Many veterans live in rural areas and have to take long trips to receive care, she noted.

"Expanding access to local care is critical to fulfilling the commitment we make to our veterans who put their lives on the line to protect our country, particularly as the country begins to address the needs of our expanding veteran population and treat the mental health disorders that are a common effect of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," Shaheen said.

In Manchester, Duckworth visited Women's Veterans Services, rehabilitative services and the cafeteria, while talking with Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans on staff, older veterans and community, military and human service representatives at a luncheon.

Duckworth quizzed Kelly Kean, women veterans program manager, on whether services were available for women who suffer from military sexual trauma. Kean said they did and provide mental health services to every woman who comes in.

She told Duckworth her program could use additional staff and additional hours to work with the women. Duckworth asked if any women veterans were on staff, and was told 25 percent of staff are veterans.

Duckworth was a major in the Illinois Army National Guard. She flew Black Hawk helicopters in Iraq, and in 2004, her helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and she lost both legs and partial use of one arm.

Meeting with resident veterans in the cafeteria, Duckworth told David White of Moultonborough, a recent amputee, to dress up his prosthetic leg when it's time to get one. "You can get any design on them, you can get your dolphins on them if you want," said Duckworth. White served on submarines.

She showed off her prosthetic legs, one covered in camouflage with "Fly Army" on the front and the other an American Flag.

Albert Dellucci of Merrimack chided Duckworth and Shaheen, telling them: "Every politician tells you they don't have the money, but they use it on themselves. ... I don't need it, but a lot of veterans here need a lot of help."

Duckworth noted the Veterans Administration received the largest budget increase in 30 years under the Obama administration.

"I hope no one is mad at me because you had to give up your Kmart trip. I spent a lot of time in the hospital, and I wouldn't want to give up a trip to Kmart," Duckworth said, and thanked the veterans for their service.