Tuesday, 28 May 2024

VA to open Lake County outpatient health clinic in 2010

LAKE COUNTY – After years of lobbying and delays, Lake County has been notified that a Veterans Affairs outpatient health clinic will open here in 2010, which local veterans leaders say will be an important and positive step for the county's large veteran population.

The VA clinic slated to open locally is one of 31 to be opened in 16 states. All but two of the clinics are slated to open in 2010.

Frank Parker, president of Lake County United Veterans Council, said he thinks the decision to locate a clinic here will have a profound – and positive – impact on local vets.

“It's going to make life a lot easier on the veterans in this county,” he said.

Dean Gotham, president of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 951, agreed with Parker's assessment about the clinic, which he said is needed.

In announcing the new clinics, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B. Peake said the new facilities will bring VA care closer to the veterans who have earned it.

The two states with the most planned new clinics are Michigan and California. Besides Lake County, California is expected to get new clinics in Oakhurst, Susanville and Yuba County, all of them having the 2010 opening date.

The new clinics will be part of the the largest integrated health care system in the country, run by the VA, which has 153 hospitals and about 745 community-based clinics. The VA’s medical care budget of more than $41 billion this year will provide health care to about 5.8 million people during nearly 600,000 hospitalizations and more than 62 million outpatient visits.

The community-based outpatient clinics, or CBOCs, will become operational by late 2010, with some opening in 2009. Local VA officials will keep communities and their veterans informed of milestones in the creation of the new CBOCs.

This new expansion in the health care system comes on the heels of Congress' recent passage of the largest veterans health care funding increase in the VA's 77-year history, according to Congressman Mike Thompson's office. Since January 2007, funding for veterans has been increased by more than $16 billion.

The increased funding means 15,000 new VA health care workers – among them 1,705 new doctors and 6,468 new nurses – as well as more medical services, better care and shorter waiting times for doctors' appointments for the 5.8 million veterans who rely on the system, according to Thompson's office.

The funding also will add more than 5,200 new case workers to reduce the six-month delay for the nearly 400,000 veterans backlogged in the system waiting to receive their earned benefits.

County Veterans Service Officer Jim Brown said Tuesday that the announcement means that the county's large veteran population – spanning the time from World War II to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – won't have to travel to clinics in Ukiah and Santa Rosa.

That will be especially important for older veterans, said Brown. “Care closer to home is far more important, especially when you've got some chronic illnesses.”

He said having a clinic closer also will be important for preventive care, such as routine checkups, which he said has been missing for local veterans.

Lake County is home to about 8,000 veterans; Brown estimated between 2,500 and 4,500 use the VA health care system. That high per capital population helped land the clinic.

Brown said a local clinic has been on the drawing board for a long time, and he's worked with Thompson's office since about 2000 to get a clinic here.

“The need has always been here, it's just been getting the VA's funding,” he said.

In a Tuesday statement, Thompson – himself a Vietnam veteran – lauded the VA for the clinic decision.

“We always have to remember that the services and benefits we have in place for veterans are not what veterans deserve to get, it’s what they have earned,” Thompson said. “That’s why we’ve been working in Congress to make sure that vets are treated with respect and have access to the care and services they have earned for their service. This new center will mean a huge improvement in the quality of care for Lake County’s 8,000 veterans.”

In 2006, Lake County was supposed to be on the list of new clinic locations but for some reason wasn't included, said Brown. Because of that, he's still a little cautious about the clinic actually becoming a reality, although he concedes, “It finally looks like it is going to get here.”

Brown said that he expects the clinic will be located in the south county – either in Clearlake or Lower Lake – because the area is home to the largest number of veterans in the county.

Normally, the VA rents space for their clinics, often near a hospital since the clinics usually don't have x-rays or labs, Brown said.

Just when the clinic will open isn't clear. “Nobody has given us a firm date yet,” he said. “My hope would be that if they could get that done sooner it would happen.”

More complicated health care procedures will still require that veterans travel to Fort Miley in San Francisco, said Brown. Five days a week, a van provided by the Disabled American Veterans and driven by volunteers leaves at 6 a.m. from Clearlake for the daylong trip to take veterans to health appointments at the VA facility.

Both Gotham and Parker say they drive to Ukiah or Santa Rose to be treated in the VA system.

“They do a good job over there,” Gotham said of the Ukiah clinic.

He added that the issue is not quality but, rather, the drive time for local vets to get back and forth to medical appointments.

A lot of veterans, particularly those who served during the Vietnam War, have post traumatic stress disorder, he said. “And they're making us drive all over the state.”

Not having to spend hours traveling to doctors will be a big boon to local veterans, who have wanted the clinic, said Parker. “It's going to take a big load off of them financially, mentally.”

Gotham announced the new clinic to the Vietnam Veterans of America meeting Tuesday night, said Parker – news which received a round of applause.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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