Forum, April 14: I See No ‘Disarray’ at the White River Junction VA

Friday, April 13, 2018
I See No ‘Disarray’ at the VA

I had a routine eye appointment at the White River Junction Veterans Affairs Medical Center recently. It had been marked on my calendar; still, the VA reminded me twice — first by postcard, later by a real-person phone call. I parked in the lot and within a minute a shuttle-car driver offered a ride up to the main building. The window replacement project there has been completed since my last visit. Looks good and probably keeps out the cold Vermont air much better than the old windows. Good maintenance, I thought.

A nice man promptly checked me in and sent me to a comfortable waiting room where another gentleman explained a new VA program called “Connect Your Docs.” It will allow a veteran’s health information to be transferred quickly to a civilian hospital if the veteran authorizes and signs up for it. Sounds like a good idea in case of emergency.

I was still signing the form when the eye care technician came for me — prior to my scheduled time. No long wait here. She, and then a second eye technician, examined me and went over things before I saw the eye doctor. Everything checked out and I can see OK with glasses. Because of family history of glaucoma, they want to keep an eye on my eyes, so they will see me again in six months. Back at the desk, the man schedules that for the same day on which I already have a different appointment. Convenient. Saves me a trip. Leaving the building, I can see the photograph of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin in the lobby.

The next day, a front page story in Valley News stated that “Shulkin leaves behind a department in disarray” (“Trump Ousts VA’s Shulkin, Nominates Doctor,” March 29).

I didn’t know about Phoenix, or Shulkin’s ethics.The VA hospital in White River Junction is excellent. I see no disarray. Its people are wonderful. I thank all who work there for their service to our veterans.

Francis P. Snarski

Chester, Vt.

Saddened by Holcombe’s Resignation

This letter is written in full support of Rebecca Holcombe. I take her at her word that it was time for her to resign as Vermont’s education secretary and I know her future as a powerful educational leader will continue. That said, I am deeply saddened that she found it necessary to resign.

I have been an educator in Vermont since 1971, and so have knowledge of the work of many state-level education leaders over the years. In my experience, Holcombe has been one of the very finest. Beyond smart, she is a complex systems thinker and a compassionate advocate for the most vulnerable of children. She enjoyed an enormous amount of support within the educational community because of her clear-headed thinking, ability to manage a complex statewide educational system and her deep educational knowledge base.

Over her four years as secretary of education, her passion for the educational future of all of Vermont’s children has influenced every aspect of educational policy and practice. Her knowledge and vision come out of her own experience as an educator, comprehensive planning and research, and deep listening to parents, students, school board members, school administrators and educators.

Her work on Act 46 with communities throughout Vermont alone reveals her commitment to creating a structure for Vermont that reflects 21st century educational structures and student needs. Recognizing Vermont’s declining student population and the diverse needs of students and families, she set about making changes in a collaborative manner. She consistently considers all students, those of wealth and poverty, gifted and challenged, rural and urban. This awareness is accompanied by a deep understanding of the increasingly diverse cultural, racial and family profiles within the state, as well as the impact of substance use, including opiates, on children’s educational access and well-being. She is also cognizant of the fiscal efficiencies needed to maintain and strengthen an effective educational system in Vermont.

I mourn the loss of her integrity, sensibilities and talents within Vermont’s Agency of Education.

Jo-Anne Unruh


The writer is a former special education administrator for the Hartford School District, and retired executive director of the Vermont Council of Special Education Administrators.

Story Gave Student Too Much Credit

While mostly balanced, your recent article gives too much credit to Vermont Law School student Sissy Bradford as a firebrand when she is not (“VLS Student Rankles Classmates, Administrators,” April 8).

Bradford disregards general rules and takes umbrage when asked to follow established procedure, like any other student using all-school email lists. All students are asked to use their email responsibly, both as a means to ensure its utilitarian messaging purpose (test dates, class scheduling, interview dates, project coordination) and as a way to teach professionalism before entering the working world. Having access to all-school email is a privilege that she abuses. She pursues, inflames and sometimes instigates long reply-all email chains that clog inboxes, bury important messages and distract students from learning. This forces the administration to waste time and energy (and money) addressing student complaints and cries for help in limiting access to what was promised as a utilitarian tool.

Then there is the subject of Bradford’s casus belli, or more appropriately, casus du jour. Her claim to fame is the result of “righteous” indignation because the VLS administration wanted to know who made a penis sculpture on the school green during a week celebrating women. She — incorrectly — claimed that when a private institution removes offensive vandalism on private property in a forum not open to the public, then that violated the First Amendment. It did not.

Bradford has recently settled on VLS’s tuition increase as her “issue.” This discussion does have value. But Bradford is a person who is more concerned with voicing complaints than finding solutions or working with others.

Alfonso Villegas

The writer is a 2017 Vermont Law School graduate.

Bring Mascoma High a Title

The sure sign that spring is here is the upcoming high school baseball season. A recent article about Mascoma’s new varsity coach Dave Isom (“New Face, New Outlook: Isom Brings Youth to Royals,” March 27) triggered some fond and frustrating memories about playing baseball there.

I played on the first varsity team to play in the semifinals in 1965. The team we played was Charlestown led by Red Sox legend Carlton “Pudge” Fisk. You read that correctly — Pudge Fisk played on the Mascoma baseball diamond. Well, we won to move on, but in the second round we lost in a rain-shortened game and it was a long, silent ride home that day. Fast-forward 20 years and my son Shane also played baseball at Mascoma, and they lost in the semifinals as well. More years go by and my nephew Greg Swett plays at Mascoma. He and his teammates went to the semifinals and, as fate would have it, they also came away empty-handed.

So now, after more than a 50-year drought, it would be nice to have a baseball title at Mascoma. The boys of the past who now are grown men and senior citizens like myself would be happy beyond words.

Good luck to Mascoma and Coach Isom.

Mike Pillsbury


Politics Derailing Vt. Train Service

Vermont could have one of the best passenger rail systems in the country. It isn’t to be and the reason is politics on both sides of the river.

During the last 30 years, I’ve watched Vermont taxpayers throw millions of dollars in financial subsidies at Amtrak in exchange for empty seats and an unclear direction for the future. Nothing has ever changed. The Amtrak Vermonter train, which ends at St. Albans, is politically supported by Vermont U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy and, more recently, New Hampshire U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan. There is an expensive proposal to restore train service to Montreal, but nothing is ever said about ridership numbers for this idea.

With politics involved it doesn’t get any better than this. Vermont taxpayers are pouring in at least $2.7 million a year, plus the federal subsidy into the Amtrak Vermonter, when the whole situation could be much better.

The Amtrak Vermonter could be re-routed from Boston to Burlington via Brattleboro and Bellows Falls and terminate right on the Burlington waterfront. The ridership would be from the bookend cities and the growing destinations en route, such as Killington and Rutland. Vermont already owns the rail line north of Bellows Falls and the operating costs of this train would likely be much less than they are now, including going into Canada.

Vermont would get better Amtrak service at a lower cost. Which should make good sense, but it really doesn’t. Especially when politicians are involved. I’m convinced from what I’ve seen in White River Junction is that Sens. Leahy and Hassan don’t support anything on Amtrak except chaos, and somehow this chaos leads to the next election on both sides of the river.

Steven J. Connolly

Bethlehem, N.H.

Why the Need for Such Firepower?

Considering everything I’ve heard and read over the years regarding gun control and gun rights, I’ve never heard anyone who is pro-gun explain why they think they need to own an automatic or semiautomatic weapon, which was designed for quickly killing multiple people, not for hunting animals or target shooting.

And why are they against gun registration? If someone in their family was shot, wouldn’t they want to know who owned the weapon and was responsible for it? As to Second Amendment rights, no one seriously wants to take away all gun ownership, but even the Supreme Court has stated that the right to own does not preclude regulation.

And by the way, I own rifles myself.

Stephen Raymond