– It's been a long time coming, but veterans now have access to medical service in their own backyard.
The Honesdale Veterans Affairs (VA) Outpatient Clinic is officially open this Monday. It is located within the Honesdale Family Health Center at the Stourbridge Medical Mall.
“It's been in the works for about four years trying to get it in our area,” said Fred Jackson, executive director of the Wayne Memorial Community Health Centers (WMCHC).
He said there was a formal bid with the Veterans Administration.
“We went before them two or three times,” Jackson stated. “It got to a point when they found a model they liked and it started moving forward. It's been a lot of hard work on both sides.”
WMCHC was awarded the contract in February by the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center and the site was announced in March during a meeting of the Wayne County Commissioners.
“There was a large push by local veterans groups,” Jackson explained. “There was a lot of pressure for the VA to develop a local site.”
Starting Monday, the Honesdale VA Outpatient Clinic will be open by appointment and will run about 30 hours a week.
There will be between 10 and 12 staff members to help veterans.
Services that will be provided include general primary care. They will also provide chronic care for issues such as high blood pressure, blood disease and diabetes.
They will also be expanding the behavioral health services to veterans as well as women's health services for veterans.
Jackson added they are expanding their clinic space and bringing in more providers to help veterans.
“For the first two weeks we'll just be seeing patients,” Jackson said. “Starting in September we'll be set up to do lab work.”
He said they will be able to draw blood work and have it sent to the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center for processing.
Some of the tests can be done in house. They include pregnancy, rapid strep and anti-coagulation, which is for people who use blood thinners.
Jackson said that is a common and frequent need.
“We are limited to primary care and drawing blood,” he stated. “Anything like X-rays or specialty care diagnostics will have to be done at the Wilkes-Barre VA.”
For now, veterans can call Wilkes-Barre or the Honesdale location for appointments. Veterans need to be registered at the Wilkes-Barre VA.
Jackson said if veterans are assigned to an out of state VA or aren't registered at all, they have to go through an application process to see if they qualify for the benefits.
“We've gotten very close with our providers at the VA,” he said. “They never undertook something like this before. It was new for them to work with a private contractor.”
Jackson used running a marathon as a metaphor for the process of getting the outpatient clinic up and running.
“It's like we were running a marathon and finally crossing the finish line,” he stated, “but the race is really just beginning.
“We've been in the planning and training stages for so long. Now that we're operational it feels pretty good.”
Jackson added that on average, they are already getting 30 calls a day with people looking for information or making appointments.
After the clinic is on its feet, appointments will only be made there.
Jackson said with older veterans, the travel to Wilkes-Barre gets a lot harder.
“We are working with providers in Wilkes-Barre to better help veterans,” he said. “The Wilkes-Barre VA is one of the best and we want to bring that kind of service closer to their homes.”
The Honesdale VA Outpatient Clinic will be open Monday through Friday for appointments.
“For the most part we aren't doing walk-ins,” Jackson said, “but we will save spots for urgent needs.”
He added he thinks the clinic will probably increase to 40 hours depending on demand. He believes the clinic will be busy.
To make an appointment at the Honesdale VA Outpatient Clinic call (570) 251-6672.
Veterans who need to enroll for the first time can call the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center at 1-877-928-2621, ext. 7138, 7413, 7122 or 7267.