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Douglas County residents support restoring services to Roseburg VA Medical Center

Roseburg_VA_medical_center
Roman Battaglia / JPR
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Roseburg VA Medical Center

Over 90% of voters were in favor of the measure on Election Day.

The non-binding measure aimed to gauge voter support about restoring health care services. Local veterans groups now hope to use these results to lobby for better services with the federal agency.

"I'm very pleased with the support that the people of the county give to the veterans here. And I was bowled over that it was 92.5%," said Gwen Best, president of the Douglas County Veterans Forum.

The question was put on the ballot by the Douglas County Board of Commissioners at the urging of multiple local veterans' groups, including the Vietnam Veterans of America, which has a chapter in Roseburg.

With the vote, Board Chairman Tim Freeman said they're trying to "bring attention to the fact that the services at the Roseburg VA, which includes services for all of Southern Oregon and portions of Northern California, over time have been reduced."

Issues have long plagued the Roseburg VA Medical Center. Its intensive care unit was closed in 2009, and in 2019, its emergency department was converted to a weekday urgent care clinic. The center has also struggled to recruit and retain staff. It received criticism in a NYT article that claimed its drive for better ratings was hurting patient care. Veterans have at times had to wait months to receive medical treatment.

Jim Little, retired Naval Officer and former President of the Douglas County Veterans Forum, said the situation became even more dire during COVID-19.

"During the pandemic, a lot of the services at the hospital seemed to be drained away up to Eugene and also down to Medford. And veterans began noticing that it was very difficult to get even an appointment. In some cases, they had to wait as long as three months to see their primary care physician," he said, adding that it's difficult for many veterans to commute hours to a different center.

"We're not asking for a gold-plated health plan, either. It's just one that's reasonable and accessible," he said.

Freeman highlighted the need for health care that is tailored to veterans, adding, "There is some very unique diagnosis, treatments, personalities, and struggles that veterans have that the general population doesn't have."

Veterans commit suicide at much higher rates than the general population; some suffer from past exposure to Agent Orange, frost bite, and burn pits, according to Little. Many suffer from mental health issues like PTSD.

Little said the Roseburg VA Medical Center now operates as an out-patient clinic, with no in-patient surgeries. His goal is to return it to a full-service hospital.

To do that, local veterans groups will need the support of their local elected representatives in order to bring the issue to national attention and encourage the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to address the issue.

"It is systemic across the whole VA system," Freeman said. "Something has to be done. These veterans agreed to go do what they did for our country with a promise of having these services when they returned, and the federal government is not fulfilling their promise."

Little said the recent overwhelming vote will provide useful evidence of support for their cause.

"It's going to be, in our mind, ammunition to carry our campaign forward," he said.

A spokesperson for the Roseburg VA said the center had no comment on the vote.

Jane Vaughan began her journalism career as a reporter for a community newspaper in Portland, Maine. She's been a producer at New Hampshire Public Radio and worked on WNYC's On The Media. Jane recently earned her Master's in Journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.