Hefner VA Medical Center director says hospital is not closing

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Steve Huffman
The director of the Hefner VA Medical Center said Friday that despite planned changes to the institution, closing it is not an option.
Carolyn Adams told members of the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce at their annual retreat that $60 million in additions and improvements are planned for the local VA.
“If there’s this fear that the VA is going to close and move out of Salisbury, I can guarantee you that’s not going to happen,” she said.
Adams and other VA administrators came under fire earlier this week following announcements that the facility is about to undergo major changes ó including making a transition away from inpatient, emergency and surgical services to a long-term and mental health facility for veterans.
The moves, Adams said, will prompt the VA to “develop contracts with non-VA health-care systems.”
John Pruitt, chief operating officer at Rowan Regional Medical Center, addressed the matter briefly when he spoke to Chamber members Friday before Adams took her turn.
“With changes coming for the VA, we’ve got to figure out how to deal with and accept their patients,” Pruitt said.
Adams said many of the answers to questions pertaining to changes at the VA remain to be addressed. She admitted that even among VA administrators there remains some confusion.
Adams took a fair amount of time to answer questions from Chamber members. “I know there are lots of questions,” she said early in her address.
Adams was asked if the VA ran the risk of losing doctors who specialize in certain areas of medicine. She said some of the surgeons will do surgery with VA affiliates.
Adams also told the gathering that there’s always a possibility that plans for changes to the VA will be reversed. She noted that James Peake, secretary of Veterans Affairs, will probably be replaced when a new administration takes office in January.
When that happens, Adams said, there’s always a possibility that planned changes at the local VA will be nixed.
Much of what Chamber members questioned Adams about had little to do with the planned changes at the VA, and more to do with the health of veterans returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Adams said many of those veterans ó approximately 90 percent ó are afflicted with mental disorders upon their return from combat. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is one ailment that’s commonly diagnosed, she said.
“This is a different war than we’ve ever had,” Adams said, noting that some soldiers are being made to serve as many as four or five tours of duty.
Asked the number of Iraqi War veterans returning with mental problems, Adams said, “The number just keeps growing.”
She said much of the energy of VA doctors and nurses goes into suicide prevention. “Many of these individuals get back and just can’t cope with society,” Adams said.
She pointed to the meeting room where Chamber members gathered.
“They’d never sit in a room like this,” Adams said of the returning veterans. “There’s too many access points.”
She said problems confronting those veterans include doing things as simple as driving because the sight of a bag on the side of the road brings back memories of bombs that were placed along Iraqi highways.
Adams said a number of veterans have trouble being around children because in Iraq, children would often be planted with bombs in efforts to kill American soldiers.
“It’s very traumatic to them,” Adams said.
She said she was among a group of health-care providers who met with eight veterans who’d recently returned from Iraq. Adams said that among that eight, five got divorced almost immediately upon returning home.
Four admitted to having contemplated suicide, she said.