By Paul Fattig
As a veteran of the U.S. Air Force’s enlisted ranks, Don Burman has a strong affinity for military veterans.
In fact, that bond was what attracted him to his new job, said the newly minted director of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics in White City.
“When I interviewed for this position, I told the folks that I had been practicing to be a good health care administrator for 25 years so I could bring that skill set here and use it on behalf of veterans,” he said.
“I have a real love for the guys and gals who have served their country,” he added.
Burman, 61, assumed command of SORCC in mid-February. He replaced former director Max McIntosh, who retired in April 2012 after 39 years with the VA.
Burman previously was the director of the Heartland Surgical Specialty Hospital in Overland Park, Kan., where he served for four years.
He was previously chief executive officer for Pinnacle Healthcare LLC in Crown Point, Ind., from 2006-08. Before that, he was CEO for Orthopedic Hospital of Oklahoma for five years.
He has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Trinity University in Texas and a master’s degree in health administration from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo.
“With my experience in health care and my experience as a veteran, my ability to relate to veterans is a lot easier,” he said. “A lot of the veterans here are combat veterans. I was lucky that I was not.
“But I have friends who were in combat, and I’ve seen the struggle they have had. That’s why I got into this side of health care.”
The vast SORCC provides health care to more than 16,000 outpatients, more than 400 inpatients and has an annual operating budget of some $90 million. It has a staff of about 550, making it among the top 10 employers in Jackson County. It also has about 500 volunteers, including former director McIntosh, who now does volunteer work at the center.
The center was built in 1942 as Camp White to train soldiers during World War II. At one point early in the war, some 40,000 soldiers were posted at the Army camp.
Originally from El Paso, Texas, where he played middle linebacker on his high school football team, Burman spent more than nine years in the Air Force, serving in communications. He rose to the rank of staff sergeant.
“I had great assignments — I had a chance to see things I probably wouldn’t have seen,” he said. “I didn’t know much existed outside of Texas. Seeing many parts of the world because of the military was good for me.
“Like all other veterans, I had some assignments that weren’t as wonderful as others,” he added. “Still, in all, my experience in the Air Force was terrific. I would not trade that for anything.”
Burman said he is getting to know the staff who work in the center, which has seven miles of hallways.
“Right now, my role is to understand what we do, how we do it and how can we improve on what we do so the veterans are the beneficiaries,” he said, noting he has been impressed with the quality of the SORCC staff and their dedication.
“There are three things that most administrators don’t have enough of, and I don’t care whether you are in the proprietary or government side,” he said. “You don’t have enough time. You don’t have enough information. And you don’t have enough resources.”
The federal sequestration that went into effect March 1 won’t directly affect the SORCC because the VA is not part of those budget cuts, he said.
Nor will the end of the Iraq war and the anticipated draw-down of troops in Afghanistan affect the work being done at the SORCC, he said.
“The things we are faced with in terms of service men and women coming back from these different conflicts don’t change,” he said. “We still have the homeless we need to work with. We still have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) we have to deal with. We have long-term care issues we have to work through.
“I don’t think it gets any easier,” he added. “I think it gets more complex as we look for ways to serve these veterans who have been in these different conflicts. But we are ready to answer the challenges coming our way.”
He and his wife, Deborah, have a son and daughter, both grown.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or firstname.lastname@example.org
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.