Veterans on the far-flung coast of Oregon will have the ability to pursue holistic, preventive and alternative treatments as part of a change of heart in the Veterans Administration system and the realization that other methods abound.

Some of those alternative treatments will include acupuncture, tai-chi, mindfulness, yoga among other therapies, said Roseburg Veterans Administration Healthcare Interim Director David Whitmer. He was in Brookings Monday evening to update veterans on changes that have taken place in the last three months at the facility in Roseburg, where many Curry County veterans go for medical care.

And many alternative therapies are particularly successful for those in pain, dealing with the repercussions of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other maladies that are often treated with opioids or surgery.

Systemic changes

Among the larger changes made in Roseburg will be implemented as the result of the president signing the VA Mission Act, merging the VA Choice program — allowing people to seek local care if they live more than 40 miles from a clinic — and the Community Care Program that allows a doctor to refer a patient to receive care locally. The new program is called the Community Care Network Program.

“The biggest mistake the VA made was when it implemented the Community Care Program,” Whitmer said. “It was the result of the Phoenix (Arizona) access problems, and they gave us 60 days to implement it. I don’t think that worked well for our providers or our veterans.”

The new program will take a year to implement, and is starting on the East Coast. Because Whitmer is basically on loan from the VA system in southern Florida, he gets updates about how the program is progressing as it moves west, he said.

A new program, called The Whole Health Partnership, is the result of acknowledging that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, Whitmer said.

“We’re really taking that to heart,” he said. “It can lead to better outcomes. Instead of asking, ‘What’s the matter with you?’ we’ll be asking, ‘What matters to you?’ then work together and design a health program designed around your purpose. It can be a better way to manage your health.”

And a Veterans Benefits Administration is opening in Roseburg and will offer help for those with issues with their benefits. A teleconferencing system will be set up to help those with appeals, he said.

“That will make Roseburg the only rural Level 3 VA facility with a hospital, a benefits administration and a cemetery in the country,” Whitmer said. “All on one campus.”

A new 150-bed Oregon State Veterans Home is also being planned on 15 acres of land on the Roseburg campus, he said, making it the third in the state. The other locations are in The Dalles and Lebanon.

“We want to make Roseburg a one-stop shopping for veterans in Southern and Central Oregon,” Whitmer said. “This will be a great addition.”

However, he admitted, it’s going to take awhile — about three years.

First, the federal government has to deed the land to the state, which will take about eight months. Then they need to coordinate a grant — $30 million from the federal government to Oregon for construction, another $10.7 each from the state and county, and the city itself contributing the infrastructure needed.

Whitmer noted that the website on which veterans can make appointments has improved, as well. For example, he said, a veteran who is an established patient and seeking mental health help can get an appointment within four days, and a new patient within eight. For primary care, it is two days for an established patient and eight days for a new one.

Other changes

The Roseburg VA hospital now has an acting chief of staff and a new chief of surgery, Whitmer said.

They have hired a veterans “experience officer,” who will coordinate patient advocates, volunteer services and care coordinators.

And they have changed their minds again regarding the emergency room in Roseburg, and will keep it open 24/7, even though it’s not profitable to do so. The ER gets about 35 to 40 visits a day, and 90 percent arrive between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., Whitmer said.

They decided to keep it open after they learned their hospital would be downgraded to “urgent care” clinical designation if they didn’t, he said.

“You can’t take an ambulance to an urgent care facility,” Whitmer noted.

Other accomplishments:

•The VA there has now earned a second star in its five-star rating system,

•They have a community living center with 24 long-term beds and 20 beds for veterans with dementia and related disorders,

•Whitmer is still working to forge relationships with physicians, clinics and hospitals on the coast to enable veterans to receive basic preventive care and tests here rather than travel the four hours to Roseburg for simple office visits and,

•His replacement is expected to be hired by the turn of the year.

For additional information, Whitmer can be reached at 541-440-1000, ext. 44208.