VA clinic earns congressional salute

Douglas County’s congressional representatives promise to make it a priority to fund medical care for military veterans.

“This should not be about partisan politics,” U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, D-Kan., said during a visit Monday to a clinic for veterans in Lawrence.

His colleague, U.S. Rep. Nancy Boyda, D-Kan., agreed.

“The fact is we know that the issues of funding are front and center on everybody’s mind,” Boyda said.

Boyda and Moore took part in a ceremony and open house that marked the grand opening of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Community Based Outpatient Clinic, 2200 Harvard Road.

The clinic opened in June for a few days a week and shortly thereafter became a weekday operation. It has about 500 patients and there is room for “a lot” more, said Terry Harbert, social work service chief with the VA’s Eastern Kansas Health Care System, which oversees the clinic as well as others affiliated with VA medical centers in Topeka and Leavenworth.

There are several thousand military veterans in Douglas County and the surrounding area, Harbert said. Many of them probably are eligible to receive care at the clinic, he said.

“This is not your grandfather’s VA,” Harbert said. “I know we provide quality care.”

Most people are happy with the service that the VA provides, but eligibility is becoming more difficult because of a lack of funds, Boyda said.

In recent years, there has been a focus on cutting taxes, sometimes to the detriment of worthwhile programs, Moore said. Funding for the VA and college student loans should be among the funding priorities, he said.

U.S. reps. Dennis Moore, left, and Nancy Boyda, both D-Kan., sit with Peter Almenoff, medical director of VA Heartland Network, before addressing those gathered at an open house for the new Veterans Affairs clinic, 2200 Harvard Road. The official grand opening of the clinic was Monday morning.

“I love tax cuts like everybody else, but we need to make sure when we cut programs to pay for tax cuts, we should never cut certain areas,” Moore said.

The clinic is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The staff consists of a physician assistant, nurse and clerk.

Roscoe Shepherd, the physician assistant, said he can provide many of the clinical services a medical doctor can provide. On Thursdays and Fridays, a social worker visits the clinic to provide mental health care.

Dell Barnett visits the clinic a few times a month for medical care. He saves time and gasoline costs because he no longer has to drive from Lawrence to a VA clinic out of town, he said.

“It’s a whole lot cheaper and the treatment’s better,” the 57-year-old Vietnam veteran said.

Veterans who are enrolled for VA health care can contact a clerk to schedule an appointment by calling (800) 574-8387, ext. 54650.

Veterans with questions about eligibility for VA health care should call the Topeka office at (800) 574-8387, ext. 54511, or the Leavenworth office at (800) 952-8387, ext. 52361.