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White River Junction VA Marks 75 Years of Service

White River Jct. — Eight years ago, Adam Youngman was preparing for civilian life after spending four years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He found the help he needed in White River Junction.

“I was initiated to the VA system after I got out and they did wonders for me,” said Youngman, a Lebanon resident who also works as a clerk at the VA. “They basically provided the foundation for my life.”

Tens of thousands of veterans just like Youngman benefit every year from the care that the VA provides and, this week, the medical center will reflect on 75 years of serving veterans in White River Junction.

Established in 1938, the VA Medical Center has grown from a relatively small three-story building to become an acute care hospital and research center with a national reputation for its mental health services, especially around post-traumatic stress disorder. The hospital cares for approximately 24,000 veterans in the Twin States.

Events honoring that history will begin today and run through Nov. 11, which is Veterans Day. Banners and displays will be hung around the campus, and events will recognize not only the veterans but also the family and staff who care for them.

Laura Pomeroy, an equal opportunity employment counselor at the VA, put together a commemorative book of letters, photographs and documents that reflect on the institution’s history in White River Junction. Pomeroy has worked there since July, but said she was interested to learn just how much the place has changed over the years.

“I was really captivated by all the hard work that has gone into the hospital, decade after decade,” she said.

Most recently, the VA opened a new 10,000-square-foot residential recovery center, where veterans with alcohol and drug problems can stay and be treated, as well as the Women’s Comprehensive Care Center to provide for the nearly 13,000 women veterans living in New Hampshire and Vermont. Tours of the women’s center are scheduled for Nov. 11 from 12-4. That day also will feature a Veterans Day ceremony at noon with an open house to follow.

The VA’s Hospice Choir will share music with patients and the veterans’ families this week. The medical center’s chaplain and choir’s founder, Mary Lewis Webb, said it would be a chance to sing in a different, perhaps lighter context than what her 30-member choir is used to. The choir sings to patients who are nearing the end of their lives, offering comfort through music. But this week, a group of 17 choir singers will perform for all patients and also lead family caregivers in a sing-a-long, Webb said.

“We’re trying to give those family members a break,” she said.

Although not a veteran herself, Webb said she has come to appreciate the camaraderie among veterans and the familial bonding that happens among patients and staff at the medical center. Webb has worked there 81/2 years.

“So much healing happens between veterans,” she said. “The band of brothers and band of sisters is a healing agent in and of itself.”

Throughout the VA’s growth and evolution, the institution has “never wavered from our mission of improving the health and well-being of those we are so privileged to serve,” VA director Deborah Amdur said in a statement.

Herman Powell is among the roughly 300 veterans who both receive care at the medical center and help other veterans access it as an employee. Powell, an Army veteran, works alongside Youngman to process bills for veterans who get treated outside of the VA system.

Powell hopes the 75th anniversary celebrations not only recognize the contributions of the center, but also help welcome veterans who are unaware of the services it provides.

“I just hope that the word gets out that the VA is here,” he said. “And if (veterans) are not registered or getting care here, they need to come here.”

For more information about events: http://www.whiteriver.va.gov/calendar.asp

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

CORRECTION

The VA Medical Center in White River Junction provides care for 24,000 veterans, though around 75,000 veterans live in its catchment area in Vermont and New Hampshire. An earlier version of this story was incorrect on the number of veterans the hospital cares for.