Wallowa vets finally get VA service officer

Linda McIntyre

Wallow County Veterans have their Veterans Service Officer - again. After former Veterans Service Officer Renee Beaudoin's departure due to health reasons, Child Welfare agent Linda McIntyre applied for the job. "I sat right next to Renee for four years and I thought, 'that's a cool job,'" McIntyre said. "It's cool because being able to connect services for people is a human thing - and veterans deserve these benefits.

Now, fresh back from two weeks of training in Salem, McIntyre is ready to serve. "It's a bit overwhelming right now with three months backlog from the time we did not have a service officer, but I'm playing catch-up," she said.

McIntyre is in the office in the Prairie Creek Center on Litch Street in Enterprise all week and appointments can be made by calling 426-3155, Ext. 241.

McIntyre encourages veterans to make an appointment just to familiarize themselves with the services. "There are a lot of vets who don't know I can connect services for them," she said. "They think because they were not deployed, they don't qualify - and there are categories and qualifications for everything but anyone on active service qualifies for something."

McIntyre has also joined the committee, now forming, which hopes to work with Walla Walla VA to provide better services for rural vets.

Walla Walla VA Medical Center Director Brian W. Westfield had promised Wallowa County veterans that he was looking at developing various expanded or integrated services for rural communities at the July 8 informational meeting held in Enterprise.

Westfield, who has experience in creating innovative and effective systems for care in rural communities is looking at a variety of issues. One of the issues he said the VA had begun dealing with was the issue of transportation, he said. This was good news to McIntyre who says that clarity of procedure is essential. There is something wrong with a system that can reimburse a veteran for travel to a distant hospital for treatment, but cannot provide the transportation the veteran needs to actually get there, she said.

The issue of travel, when studied, unpacks to reveal some other issues, as well, Westfield said.

"We started looking at it as a transportation issue but what surfaced out of this discussion was the real difficulty in getting mental health services in a rural community. So, we started looking at how we could get those services in rural communities. If we can do more and more services in Enterprise we can diminish transportation issues."

One service the VA is currently providing is a weekly meeting for combat veterans with posttraumatic stress syndrome with a peer support person, veteran Richard Green. The meeting is held on Tuesdays in Enterprise. To qualify for that group, veterans should contact the Walla Walla VA or Green directly at (509) 386-9068 or call (509) 525-5200, ext. 126238 to leave a message.

The plan is to have numerous support groups in the northwest. La Grande Clinic also provides mental health services for vets in need of further counseling. A licensed clinical social worker Lennard Zylstra, was hired and addiction therapist Vern Sinclair will be available soon. An advanced mental health nurse practitioner is also expected in La Grande in the near future, according to Clark Schmidt, chief of behavioral health at the Walla Walla VA. "The VA is really pouring a lot of money into the mental health services," he said. "We really see this as a frontrunner in best practice in rural mental health care within months."

With Westfield's promise of action in mind, Commissioner and veteran Susan Roberts immediately got to work creating a committee to work with the Walla Walla medical team. "Per capita, we have a huge percentage of veterans in our county who have to travel over the mountains for health care," said Roberts. "We need to begin working on this immediately."

Members of that committee so far include Roberts, McIntyre, Bill Phinney, a veteran and nurse from Wallowa Memorial Hospital, Steve Kliewer of the Wallowa Valley Center for Wellness, and Dick Burch. Others representatives from the hospital and other involved agencies or organizations will be added.

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