"This is our facility!" proclaimed Ray Bull.
Speaking to dozens of veterans on Tuesday at the grand opening of the Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic in Yuba City, he encouraged them to make full use of its services. The clinic fulfills President Abraham Lincoln's promise to care for those who have "borne the battle," and no longer will residents have to make the long drives to Chico or Sacramento for treatment or suffer with their health needs unmet, said Bull, president of the Yuba-Sutter United Veterans Council.
Primary care, mental health, lab work, prescriptions and addictions counseling are all offered at the facility, which opened in mid-February in the heart of the city's medical corridor on Plumas Boulevard. Staff also make house calls, and when a patient needs specialized care beyond the expertise of the clinic's staff, doctors from Sacramento or Oakland can treat patients face-to-face by video conferencing.
"This is great," said Olivehurst resident Richard Peach. "Whatever my needs may be, they are supposed to be here for me."
For seven years, the Navy veteran made frequent trips to Mather for treatment of his failing kidneys. Two years ago, he had a life-transforming transplant, but still travels to the clinic every three months for diabetes, high blood pressure and other ailments.
He has never had a bad experience with the V.A., but now looks forward to not making the drive. Even better, Peach said, he can stay with his primary physician from Mather using video conferencing.
Ray Caballero, American Legion Post 42 commander, said the homeless will likely benefit the most. Working at the Veterans Stand Down every year, he sees how many men and women veterans are not getting services they so badly need because they don't have the resources.
For a project that has been talked about for nearly a decade, he said it's fantastic to finally see it serving veterans.
Caballero knows one veteran with severe post-traumatic stress disorder who is now getting treatment at the Yuba City location. And he also has veteran friends who are amputees and have better access to the care and medication they need.
He expressed his gratitude to everyone who worked toward the facility.
"A lot of the veterans that started it, they are not here to see it, but they made that initial push," Caballero said.
More than 100 people attended Tuesday's grand opening. Rep. Wally Herger, R-Chico, Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, were present, along with City Council and Board of Supervisor members, and joined veterans and community members after the ribbon cutting for tours of the 11,300-square-foot facility.
In just two months, demand for services at the Yuba City clinic is already growing, and the clinic is adding to its 23-member staff to meet the need, said clinic manager Don Black. But there was not the explosion of patients that some people predicted.
The 900 veterans the clinic serves is just 200 more than were served at the old V.A. clinic, which shared a building with Feather River Tribal Health Inc.
It has the capacity to treat 4,800 veterans, and authorization to hire more physicians and staff as patient volume grows.
"So tell your friends, tell your neighbors, we are there for them," Black said.
For Brian O'Neill, director of Northern California Health Care System, the opening of the Yuba City clinic stirs memories of when he started with Veterans Affairs in the late 1980s, when there was only a single hospital in Sacramento and small clinics in Martinez and Oakland.
Today, services include clinics in Redding, Chico, Fairfield, Mare Island, Mather and McClellan. And instead of treating 25,000 veterans, they serve 80,000.
CONTACT Ashley Gebb at email@example.com or 749-4783. Find her on Facebook at /ADagebb or on Twitter at @ADagebb.
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