Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 23, 2014

Local patients make use of mobile veteran clinic

GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — For area veterans, driving to and from Beckley for a doctor’s appointment is routine, but many are now visiting a more convenient alternative: The new Veterans Administration mobile clinic stationed in Bluefield.

Located outside the Herb Sims Youth Center on Stadium Drive, the mobile clinic was dedicated Tuesday with a ribbon cutting ceremony. It went into operation Wednesday, and many local veterans are making appointments there already.

Appointments can be made by calling 304-894-7694. Veterans who visited the new facility soon after its opening said they were glad to see its arrival.

“I’m just here to figure out how I could get my appointments set up, and see if I can come here instead of Beckley,” said Bruce Houston, 67, of Bluefield. Houston served with the Army in Vietnam. “It’s going to help, and I’m glad to see this.”

Veterans advocate Al Hancock of Bluefield, who worked for 18 years to get a veterans clinic to Mercer County, said he still hoped to see a permanent location in the county.

“I’m like Al. I’d like to see a brick and mortar building where we could have the special services, and even one with hospital beds would be nice. But this is a big step forward,” Houston said. “If there was a veterans hospital, families wouldn’t have to travel so far.”

The clinic’s physician, Dr. James Smith MD, said appointments were being booked well in advance. The appointments were being spaced further apart than usual until the brand-new mobile clinic was fully set up.

As of Thursday, more than 600 veterans had enrolled to get their primary care at the mobile facility. It is designed to serve 1,200 veterans, Smith said.

The clinic provides primary care services like those found in a family doctor’s office, and does not handle emergency cases. Patients with ailments such as colds and flu can be seen if they call ahead. Appointment slots are kept open for such cases.

“It’s been doing very well,” Smith said of the public’s reception. “The response has been very pleasing.”

More veterans were visiting the clinic for the first time Friday.

“Well, I’m trying to weigh my options,” said Navy veteran Tim Burress, 42, who spotted the clinic parked along Stadium Drive. “I just wanted to see what it was and if it would be really good for me, and I would like to see what its capabilities are.”

Burress estimated that a visit to the VA hospital in Beckley, including the drive to and from Raleigh County and seeing a physician, took him three hours.

“I think this would be a good thing for us. I think it’s going in the right direction,” he said.

Most veterans said they appreciated how much travel time the new clinic would cut from their daily routines.

“I think it’s great,” said Army veteran Leon Miles, 44, of Bluefield. “Depending on what I have to have done, it could save me several hours.”

Army veteran Hubert Pettrey, 61, of Athens said he was among the last veterans who joined the Army during the Vietnam War. The war was then in its closing days.

“I missed it by 30 days, thanks to Mr. Nixon,” he recalled. “I missed going to Vietnam.”

Like other veterans, Pettrey said while the mobile facility would be more convenient, he would see like to see a permanent location.

“I don’t see why they do this when there are all these empty buildings around here,” he said.

The clinic will help many older veterans, said Navy veteran Chester Lamb, 60, of Princeton.

“I think it will be a good idea,” he said of the mobile facility’s arrival. “It will save a lot of elderly people a long drive.”

Veterans who want to use the mobile clinic for their primary care must be enrolled in the Veterans Administration system. They can switch their primary care to the new clinic by calling 1-877-902-5142, Extension 4233 or 4460, to do so.