Medical center evolving to meet vets' needs

Hal Hummel is public affairs officer for the Durham VA Medical Center.

On distinctions between VA health care and Army health care: "After the story about Walter Reed broke, there was a great deal of scrutiny and criticism directed at the VA. One of the things that's interesting to note -- and it's a thing that really needs to be emphasized about anything that came out as a result of Walter Reed publicity -- Walter Reed is the Department of Defense's medical system. To say that conditions at Walter Reed are synonymous with the conditions at the VA is just 360 degrees wrong."

On proposed changes to VA health care: "We stand to get a very significant increase in appropriated funds that will come to VA facilities. ... Some will be used for facilities improvement, some for specific treatment programs for specialized care. ...

"One of the things that's important to know about Durham is that we're a 54-year-old building. The facility was open here at the end of the Korean War. Some of the funding will be used for projects we have going on to improve the state of the building.

"One of the things that will benefit patients most directly is we're renovating the inpatient medical wards. They're being upgraded up to completely state-of-the-art units. ,,, We're expanding the mental health clinic because a lot of the new focus with returning vets is post-traumatic stress disorder, and some of the symptoms and problems as a result they have of . If you have a TBI and you not only have a physical injury but mental health issues, we need to treat that as well. It's important to expand the mental health aspect of our services to be sure we can handle all the veterans.

On the influx of veterans needing medical care: "We're getting 50 to 75 new cases a month, and they're because of these signature injuries. They are people with special needs. We're doing what we need to do to not only expand the space we've got available to treat them, we're doing things with these funding initiatives to offer these services.

On concerns about the quality of care for veterans of pre-9/11 conflicts: "There is a lot of focus on . There is an act of war going on, so naturally you're going to be looking at that population. Some have said 'As a system, you weren't ready for these guys.' I believe the VA in this war has been saying 'Well, we're not going to be caught behind the curve. We're going to be out in front, and we're planning ahead to be sure we have the capacity for the specialized kind of care these veterans are going to need.' Then the people from those earlier wars say, 'Well where's our place at the table? We're still the majority of veterans being served in the VA health system.' And the answer that I'm going to give you is that they're just as much a priority as they ever were. And as they continue to need more services, the VA is going to be there for them. Programs aren't being gutted. We aren't gutting a program for Vietnam veterans to provide for veterans. It's not a matter of capping services for any group. It's about modifying services to meet the needs of each group. There is no plan in progress to limit access to care to veterans from any period."