Plans are being made by the Topeka veterans hospital to open an outpatient clinic in Lawrence that eventually could provide area veterans with basic health care five days a week.
Final approval is pending from U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, but the clinic might be open as soon as next month, said Jim Gleisberg, spokesman for Eastern Kansas Health Care System, which oversees VA medical centers in Topeka and Leavenworth.
"The initial plan is to start it for two days a week and as we build up our veteran (clientele) it will expand to three days, four days and eventually five days," Gleisberg said.
The VA's Colmery-O'Neil Medical Center in Topeka has been providing a temporary clinic in Lawrence two days a month at the Reed Medical Group building, 404 Maine. That clinic will be discontinued once the permanent clinic is approved.
A location for the permanent clinic will be announced after that approval, Gleisberg said.
The new clinic initially would be staffed by a physician's assistant and a licensed practical nurse. A social worker would be available certain days for mental health counseling, Gleisberg said.
More about the VA clinic
The clinic would start on the heels of the discontinuation in May of a van service the VA had been providing to Lawrence veterans needing to travel to Topeka for medical matters. The service was discontinued because most of the time only one person was riding in the van, Gleisberg said.
Nevertheless, there were at least 17 people who used the van service, according to Willis McCorkle, coordinator of the service. The van was purchased several years ago by the Disabled American Veterans organization, and the VA then paid for gas and maintenance.
McCorkle, who scheduled volunteer drivers for the van service, was happy to hear about plans to open a Lawrence clinic.
"That's great, especially if it goes five days a week," he said. "These people won't have to drive over there (to Topeka) now."
Don Dalquest, former commander of the Dorsey-Liberty American Legion Post No. 14 in Lawrence, agreed.
"They have to have services for the guys coming back from Iraq, and the World War II guys are really getting older and need medical services," Dalquest said.
The Lawrence clinic would serve veterans from anywhere, but it is especially intended to serve those in Douglas, Franklin, Jefferson and Miami counties, Gleisberg said. In Douglas County alone there are more than 1,600 veterans signed up to receive various services from the VA, he said.
The VA locally and nationwide is having budget problems. There is a freeze on hiring administrative personnel at area VA hospitals. The mail-out pharmacy service at the Topeka VA has had problems with a contractor that sometimes cause delivery delays, Gleisberg said.
Last month, the inpatient psychiatric unit at Leavenworth's Dwight D. Eisenhower VA Medical Center was closed. Plans had called for adding beds at the Topeka hospital's psychiatric unit, but budget problems have prevented that, Gleisberg said.
The VA also is faced with a shortage of nurses and doctors at its Leavenworth and Topeka medical centers, although attempts are being made to hire them, Gleisberg said.