Sen. Murray cuts ribbon at VA clinic

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For military veterans living on the Olympic Peninsula, a trip to the doctor often meant an all-day journey to Seattle or Tacoma.

With the recent expansion of the Veterans’ Affairs North Olympic Peninsula Clinic in Port Angeles, health care officials hope those long trips are over.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and officials from VA Puget Sound Health Care System joined local health care advocates and veterans alike in a ribbon cutting at the clinic on Feb. 19, celebrating the growth of services the facility will be able to offer.

The clinic, at 1114 Georgiana St., replaces the existing outpatient clinic and will provide three times the outpatient services for veterans, officials said.

“This is the kind of commitment we promised (for) when our vets come home,” Murray said.

The daughter of a World War II veteran, Murray said, “I know how hard things are they face when they come home.”

Murray led the fight to build new, larger VA facility in Port Angeles since 2005, and in 2007 an outpatient clinic, also on Georgiana Street, opened with relatively limited space and staffing.

The clinic’s staffing number went from three at its opening to nearly 20 at the new facility, one that will include two full-time physicians and a nurse practitioner by May.

“We wouldn’t have been able to fit you in the old clinic,” Connie Morantes, director of Primary Care at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System, told the crowd.

She said the number of veterans the clinic serves has jumped from 1,000 in 2009 to 1,700 now and, “that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

According to the VA Puget Sound Health Care System, there are as many as 14,000 veterans living in Clallam and Jefferson counties.

Morantes said the clinic expansion should be more than sufficient for at least the next five years, with enough space and staffing to see at least 3,000 veterans.

She said the goal is to make sure veterans have an appointment within a week.

Murray said the expansion should help veterans not only see physicians but get quicker follow-ups.

“Things don’t get solved in one visit,” she said. “This is exactly what was needed.”

Murray added that a challenge the VA system faces is helping an aging Vietnam War population along with veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We need to make sure we provide services for both (populations),” she said.

Working at the clinic is Dr. Therese Stokan, with a focus on family practice, and nurse practitioner Steven Walls. In May, the clinic adds Dr. David Berndt, whose focus is internal medicine.

Among other services, the clinic provides dietitians, pharmacists and mental health services.
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