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August 13, 2014
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Guest column: Why do we work at the Roseburg VA?

Not only has the entire Department of Veterans Affairs system been described as having a “corrosive culture” in a recent White House review, but staff from Roseburg VA have accurately described poor employee morale, pressure from leadership to falsify data, lack of transparency, restrictions on providers’ ability to care for veterans, failure of safety issues to be addressed, liberal use of inappropriate disciplinary action by administration against doctors and nurses, and retaliation for whistleblowing.

Why would anyone work at Roseburg VA? Many of our staff are themselves veterans and believe that we are responsible in combat and in peace for not leaving anyone behind.

For staff members who are veterans, have family or friends who have served, or simply believe in the cause of supporting the individuals who have defended our nation’s liberties and freedom at potential cost to their own lives or health, it is a great privilege. It is not just a job, it is a calling.

Though many of our patients have suffered physical and emotional damage as a result of their service, they are some of the most selfless, kind and patient people you will ever meet.

Almost every day, I get requests from veterans to relay thanks to the clerks who greet them and schedule their appointments, the clinic and preoperative nurses who prepare them for and assist with procedures, the anesthesia providers who do their best to alleviate pain, the operating room or GI nurses who not only assure their safety but also call postoperatively to make sure they are OK, and the doctors in various medical and surgical services who help provide the best care possible.

We have great clinical teams at Roseburg VA, and we are proud of the high quality of services we provide and of the results of our work.

The VA gives us ample time to see each patient in consultation. Our clinical staff is creative and works together to reduce bureaucratic obstacles. One of our clerks created patient handouts on his off time. A nurse makes her own business cards and frequently works through lunch to assure that patients can contact staff if they have questions or concerns about their care.

A Roseburg nurse worked with her counterpart at the Portland VA to help offload simple cases from Portland to Roseburg, freeing up their operating room to allow more complicated surgical cases to be addressed sooner. A plastic surgeon from the Portland VA collaborated with a clerical supervisor here to set up a clinic where he could provide high-quality hand surgery using our operating room.

Our ophthalmologist works closely with a town physician to provide high quality and high volume cataract surgery for veterans.

We are proud to be members of a community that has a tradition of celebrating, supporting and caring for veterans.

As VA staff dedicated to the VA mission, it makes us as angry as anyone when veterans are denied timely access to quality care because of poor leadership and bureaucratic logjams. We are frustrated when leadership seems more interested in making numbers look good than in facilitating care of patients.

However, we come back to the realization that there is tremendous need for veteran care in this state and that we want to be part of fulfilling that mission.

It is an honor to be able to say “thank you for your service” to our veterans through our words and our work.

Dr. Philo Calhoun of Roseburg has been a general surgeon at the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center for 5½ years. He is also a commander in the U.S. Naval Reserves. He can be reached at

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The News-Review Updated Aug 13, 2014 11:26AM Published Aug 13, 2014 11:26AM Copyright 2014 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.