Clinic to serve vets in Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties

A new Veterans Affairs Medical Telehealth Outreach Clinic will serve vets in Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties and use modern technology to save them time and travel expenses for some care.

Currently, veterans from the three counties must go to the Grand Junction Veterans Affairs Medical Center for even minor medical needs.

U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., announced plans for the facility Wednesday. Altogether, more than $7 million in new federal funding has been designated for creation of the clinics in the western United States, Salazar said.

Paul Sweeney, spokesman for the Grand Junction facility, said officials are looking between Glenwood Springs and Rifle for a location for the clinic.

VA telehealth clinics are staffed by nurses who use cameras and other diagnostic devices and interact remotely with doctors through telecommunications.

Sweeney said the use of telecommunications in medical care has expanded considerably over the years. Telehealth clinics offer numerous applications, from pre- and post-operative visits to mental health care, he said.

By reducing the need for travel, the clinic also will reduce stress, especially in the winter, for vets who sometimes must drive from as far as Aspen and Vail, Sweeney said.

Joe Carpenter, veterans service officer for Garfield and Pitkin counties, welcomed the news about the clinic.

“That’s going to be a super help that would be great for this valley. It will help a lot of guys,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter recently started a nonprofit program, Vet-Trans, to provide free transportation to VA facilities in Grand Junction and elsewhere for needy vets.

He has estimated that there are about 6,000 veterans in Garfield County.

Sweeney said a telehealth clinic for vets opened in Craig in September 2007. Visits to the clinic have doubled in the last year, he said.

Carpenter said another beneficial service of the VA’s is a nurse’s help line that can let vets do things such as get a prescription without having to go to Grand Junction.

Carpenter said an even bigger way the federal government could help vets is by doing away with means testing that keeps those above certain income levels from qualifying for care.

“That’s our biggest obstacle right there, but a clinic would be a great help, no doubt about it,” he said.


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