DERRY — Jack Roche, 72, risked his life serving his country during the Vietnam War.
Now, he hobbles with a cane and awaits hip replacement surgery.
Roche requires frequent treatment from Veterans Administration hospitals in Manchester and Boston.
“I’m in Manchester all the time; I’m in Boston all the time,” said the Dover resident, who must travel more than an hour to each hospital. “It gets to be a drag.”
But the big problem is the VA hospital in Manchester isn’t a full-service medical facility, meaning Roche often has no choice but to go to Boston — if he can get there.
“You are out of luck if you have to go to Boston and don’t have a ride,” he said. “It’s a long way to Beantown.”
The Disabled American Veterans used to provide regular rides for veterans, but now offer fewer trips.
Roche said he isn’t eligible to receive VA-subsidized health care in his own community.
He was one of 11 veterans who gathered at MaryAnn’s Diner in Derry yesterday afternoon for a roundtable discussion with 1st District Congressman Frank Guinta, R-N.H.
The veterans, who were from around the state, told Guinta the federal government needs to pay more attention to their needs.
Among those in the audience were Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, and Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, who received a hearty hug from Guinta.
The first thing Guinta did when he walked into the restaurant was ask Baldasaro how he was feeling. Baldasaro suffered a heart attack a couple of weeks ago.
Guinta, who is running for re-election against former Democratic Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, listened as Roche and some of the other veterans told of the need for a full-service VA hospital in New Hampshire.
“I feel very strongly if you need the full-service VA hospital, you should have it,” Guinta said. “We are one of the few states who don’t have the full service.”
Army veteran Robert Philbrook, 73, of Manchester said they have been fighting for a full-service hospital since 1994, but without success.
“We still have the same battle going on today,” he said.
Guinta said he has introduced House Resolution 1863 — also known as the Veterans Health Equity Act. It asks that veterans eligible for medical care through the VA have access to at least one full-service VA hospital in their state or two medical facilities comparable to a single full-service center.
“You should have the different options,” Guinta said.
Carson told the veterans defense contractors and members of the Armed Services will face challenges if Congress doesn’t pass legislation to avoid the “sequestration” federal budget cuts that would begin Jan. 1.
She said the cuts would mean the loss of 4,000 defense-related jobs in New Hampshire and have a tremendous economic impact. It also means the elimination of other jobs that could be filled by returning servicemen and other Granite State residents.
Guinta said all four members of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation are working to resolve the issue.
“This is a pretty frustrating challenge we have,” he said.
After the 45-minute discussion, veterans such as Ken Waite, 69, of Derry and Greg Lynch, 64, of Kingston said they were pleased to have the opportunity to meet with Guinta.
“I think he’s committed, but he can only take on so many issues at one time,” said Waite, an Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam.
Lynch, a Vietnam War Army veteran and state commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said he is confident Guinta can help meet the needs of New Hampshire’s veterans.
Guinta also visited Hood Middle School and Parkland Medical Center, both in Derry.