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White River Junction VA Hires First Female Director

Deborah Amdur is to be the first permanent female director of the White River Junction VA Medical Center. (Courtesy VA Medical Center)

Deborah Amdur is to be the first permanent female director of the White River Junction VA Medical Center. (Courtesy VA Medical Center)

White River Junction — The White River Junction VA Medical Center is getting its first permanent female director to oversee the care of roughly 25,000 veterans in Vermont and New Hampshire.

This month, the VA announced that Boston-native Deborah Amdur was appointed to the hospital’s top job. She will take over for Danielle Ocker, who has been serving in an interim role since the previous director Robert Walton left earlier this year.

Amdur, 58, has a background in social work and has spent more than 20 years in the VA system, most recently in developing its caregiver support program.

Reached by phone earlier this week, Amdur said her new job represents a professional highlight for her, and that she brought a “great mix of clinical, operational and program development experience to the position.”

“It has long been a goal of my career to direct a medical center,” she said. “To me, having this long VA career, there is really absolutely no greater mission than to provide great care to our nation’s veterans and to support their families. And I can’t think of a better way to do that than to come to White River Junction to be the medical center director.”

Her hiring is yet another step forward for women at the White River VA. Last month, the facility opened a new wing to treat female veterans, which account for a small but growing proportion of the patients treated there. Of the 25,000 veterans who seek care in White River Junction, only around 600 are women, though the organization hoped to double that with the opening of the women’s care center, VA spokesman Andy LaCasse said at the opening.

Amdur’s attention will be on more than improving care for female veterans, however, as she takes the reigns of the $150 million facility. Among other initiatives, she said she’d like to enhance the relationship with Dartmouth-Hitchcock, with which the VA already has a formal affiliation.

“We certainly participate in training medical students, house staff residents from Dartmouth, but also I think we have great opportunities to collaborate in joint projects and expansion of services together,” she said. “Certainly the research commitments that we have in VA is directly in line with the interests of Dartmouth. So there are great opportunities for expanding that research mission as well.”

Nationally, the VA has faced backlogs, with nearly twice the number of pending claims than it had just three years ago, according to a recent Bloomberg News report. To the extent that backlogs exist in White River Junction, Amdur said she would work to address them.

“Certainly access is a major challenge and VA’s across the country have been working to address that,” she said, noting that clinics were expanding hours into evenings and weekends to see more veterans.

Amdur is based in Washington, D.C., and much of her work has been in program development and policy with a national focus. She said she was looking forward to this change in her work.

She expects to move to Vermont in the next month and said she was looking forward to coming back to New England, where she’d have more direct involvement with veterans.

“I am very ready to come back to a medical center where I will have the direct daily contact with veterans and their families,” she said. “I also think White River Junction is a lovely community and has been extremely supportive of the VA and the medical center there and there are great opportunities for close community collaboration there as well.”

This week, the VA also announced it was building a new $2.6 million outpatient clinic in Burlington. That new clinic will treat about 4,000 veterans and replace a facility in Colchester, which is the busiest in the state and now exceeds its capacity to meet the local need.

Throughout Vermont, the VA now serves 8,600 veterans at clinics in Colchester, Brattleboro, Rutland, Bennington and Newport, which operate as satellites of the medical center in White River Junction.

On Monday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said the Burlington VA clinic was an example of how Vermont continued to improve care for its veterans.

“As a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, I am proud to announce that we’re making real progress in improving health care for veterans throughout Vermont,” Sanders said in a statement.

Chris Fleisher can be reached at 603-727-3229 or cfleisher@vnews.com.