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Makeup of N.H. VA Task Force Announced, Some Whistleblowers Say They Were Shut Out of Process

The Department of Veterans Affairs has released a list of the twelve people who will serve on a task force looking at the future of health care for New Hampshire veterans.

Since July, a dozen whistleblowers have come forward with allegations of substandard care at the Manchester VA.  One of those whistleblowers, cardiologist Erik Funk, will serve on the task force.

The list also includes four people who are not VA employees and five who are not New Hampshire residents.

Ed Kois, a VA doctor and leader of the whistleblowers, said that's a problem.

"We have people deciding the fate of the Manchester VA who don't have any skin in New Hampshire," Kois said.

VA Secretary David Shulkin ordered the creation of this task force in a visit to New Hampshire last month.

One of the more outspoken whistleblowers, Stewart Levenson, was turned away when he offered to join. Levenson worked at the Manchester VA for nearly two decades before leaving the VA earlier this summer.

Dr. Michael Mayo-Smith, network director for the New England VA system and co-chair of the task force, said at the time in an email obtained by NHPR that Levenson could not join the task force because "government work needs to be done by government employees - others are not bound by the same ethical and regulatory guidance."

He went on to say that "the Task Force will be VA staff."

Mayo-Smith was unavailable to comment Thursday.

Dave Kenney is co-chair of the committee, and chair of the New Hampshire State Veterans Advisory Committee. He is also not a VA employee. Kenney says through his work on this task force, he will be looking for ways to bring "full-service" healthcare to New Hampshire veterans.

"Full-service" means a broader range of treatment options for New Hampshire veterans, including in-patient care. Kenney says that's what most veterans want.

"They want full service, however that manifests itself," Kenney said. "Whether it's a combination of VAMC [VA Medical Center] and Choice [The Veterans Choice Program], which I believe is the way it will be."

New Hampshire is one of three states in the country without a full-service VA Medical Center, along with Alaska and Hawaii.

The task force's next meeting is scheduled for September 25th, with recommendations due by January 2018.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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