The Veterans Administration clinic on Railroad Street in Brookings is set to open Sept. 11 — and pent-up anticipation is almost palpable among local veterans.

The new facility will be more than three times larger than the clinic on Fifth Street, offer the same health-care services and expanded mental health assistance, said Shanon Goodwin, public affairs officer for the VA in Roseburg.

“We’re very happy about this new development and change within our system,” Goodwin said. “We’ll (have the space) to allow our staff to spread out more, which in turn will increase clinical efficiency as they won’t be competing for space.”

More, more, more!

The 7,920-square-foot building at 840 Railroad St., broke ground in the spring of 2016; it now merely awaits furniture and computers. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is slated to be held at 10 a.m. Sept. 11, followed by tours of the new building. The open house is open to the public.

Goodwin said the VA is adding more mental health and telehealth opportunities.

But most importantly, the new building will provide more room.

“We have staff tripping over themselves in the old space,” Goodwin said of the clinic on Fifth Street in Brookings.

“By doubling the space, they’ll have a little more room to breathe. The flow of patients will be a lot better.”

There will be more of the same services — primary care, telehealth and mental health social workers and psychologists. There will be two primary-care teams, each comprised of a provider, an RN, an LPN and a medical support assistant in charge of scheduling, Goodwin said.

Mostly, veterans are excited about the sheer size of the new building.

“There are times when that waiting room is totally full, stand-room only situations,”said associate Vietnam Veterans of America member Jim Newman. “They really try to schedule that, but when you have walk-ins on top of regularly-scheduled folks, it can get a little crowded.”

Driving for hours

In many cases, veterans must drive four hours to Roseburg to have procedures done and meet with specialists.

“We’re getting older now, and it’s getting a little hard to travel,” said Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) veteran Sam Vitale. “Gold bless them; I think they’re doing a fantastic job with what they have and what they’re doing. The doctors we’ve had in there, the nurses; I think they’ve all been great.”

“It’s hard in the system to get appointments in the valley for certain procedures,” Newman said. “A lot of guys can’t do the four-hour trip.”

He said veterans he works with not only look forward to more room for patients but to the increased number of nurses and doctors at the new clinic.

“When I moved here, 15 years ago, there was one person at the front desk; now there’s two,” Vitale said. “There’s more people working. But Rome wasn’t built in a day. They’re on the right track; they’re trying to do things.”

The needs

Curry County has more veterans per capita than any other county in Oregon, with more than 2,880 in a population of about 23,000.

World War II veterans are few and far between, the Vietnam and Korean war veterans are aged, and those from Iraq, Afghanistan and other wars are increasingly coming off the battlefields — and all need services unique to their combat and age.

“If they truly bring in the mental health component, that would be very helpful, rather than doing everything from a teleconferencing standpoint,” Newman said. “(Veterans) want a real-live body, where they can talk to somebody. We need access to CAT scans, the advanced technology. Podiatry. There’s a lot of diabetic veterans. If you clip your nails and cut your toe, that’s not a good thing.”

That, however, isn’t happening now, Goodwin said.

“We’re not getting imaging stuff or specialty services,” he said. “There’s not enough demand to bring it there. To put in a whole imaging system would cost way more than we can (justify).”

Even getting medical staff could be difficult, he admitted.

“Some of the smaller clinics are harder to recruit for,” Goodwin said. “We don’t have housing for (the new staff members). We’re hoping to find someone who already lives there and can work for the clinic.”

If not, they’ll be using more of the telehealth services for primary care, speciality follow-up work and mental health.

Goodwin said those options are better than making a trip to Portland for what could be a 20-minute appointment.

David Walrath, the senior vice commander of the Veterans of Foreign War Post 966 in Brookings, was also hoping the new facility would add some basic equipment not presently available.

“It’s an old building; it doesn’t have a whole lot of stuff,” he said of the current clinic. “They don’t have an X-ray, they have to send all the (lab work) to be tested. I think it’s a good thing we’re getting a new clinic.”

Many agree the building has been long needed.

The building merely awaits the alarm system hook-up before it gets its final certificate of occupancy, said Brookings Building Official Garrett Thomson.

Vitale laughs it off.

“In the military, whether it’s the chow line or to get uniforms,” he said, “it’s hurry up and wait,” Vitale said. “It’s great there’s going to be a new clinic. They’ve got a beautiful building, and everyone’s excited about it.”

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