‘They let you down’: Randle veterans discuss VA clinic options

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By Isabel Vander Stoep / [email protected]

There was already a long drive from Randle to Packwood when the Veterans Affairs (VA) clinic in Chehalis was open. Sometimes when East County veterans arrived they would wait in line for another few hours or even have to come back another day for health care because it was so crowded.

Now that the Chehalis Clinic is gone, the closest VA clinic in East Lewis County is in Olympia.

“Chehalis was far but it wasn’t as far as Olympia. I don’t know anyone else, but this urge is killing me,” said Debbie Wolery, a Glenoma resident who finished her service in the US Army in 1976.

Wolery was among many veterans who gathered at the Tall Timber Restaurant Lounge for breakfast and coffee on the first Thursday of every month, hosted by Navy veteran Jack Kerr and his wife Kathy Heimbigner. This Thursday, veterans met with special guests Lewis County Commissioner Lee Grose and representatives from U.S. Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler’s office, R-Battle Ground, to discuss VA clinic options.

After the Chehalis VA Clinic, which was located at the Lewis County Mall, closed, the VA Puget Sound Health Care System pledged to bring a “mobile medical unit” to Lewis County.

So far, the organization has failed to deliver on that pledge, leaving local veterans to find healthcare at already overwhelmed primary care clinics or by driving to Olympia.

Herrera Beutler addressed the issue last week in a letter to the VA Puget Sound urging her manager to: “Fulfill the promise (the VA) made in their August letter to deploy the Mobile Medical Unit to Lewis County.” .

The congresswoman also said in her letter, “Based on feedback I have received from veterans living in Lewis County, access to care continues to be a serious challenge. The situation requires not only the interim response of the deployment of the mobile medical unit as promised, but also the carrying out of a serious analysis of the data requested to formulate a sufficient long-term solution.

When the VA’s failure to bring in the Mobile Medical Unit was discussed Thursday, Grose told the veterans in the room, “They let you down.”

With the approval of Congresswoman and Mary Prophit, Randle veteran and former director of the Mountain View Library, a proposal has been submitted to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) to use part of the $15 million funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to purchase a building that could be leased to a VA community care clinic in Lewis County.

As of Thursday, Grose was unsure if this was a feasible use of the funds or if, once purchased, the clinic could be run and staffed as an au pair.

“I hadn’t planned to say much. I’m kinda more here to listen to you and what you have to say,” Grose said, later adding, “It’s obvious to me that veterans across the country are being underserved by our government.

At the meeting, Dr. Travis Podbilski of the Arbor Health Randle Clinic also said he would work with David Perez, a veterans social worker in Herrera Beutler’s office, to enroll in the VA community care program.

“So I should be able to see more veterans at the Randle Clinic,” Podbilski said, later adding, “We’re short-staffed at Arbor Health and at the Randle Clinic, but we can open up the possibility of seeing more veterans. veterans in my clinic is something I really want.

Although Thursday’s meeting was more an airing of grievances than a brainstorming session, it allowed Grose – who was appointed in November to serve the final year of Gary Stamper’s tenure at the BOCC – to garner some comments on the proposal made to the county.

“I’ll tell you I’m pretty much a one year wonder and once here for the rest of this term but it’s become a really big priority for me, getting some help for you guys out there. one way or another. other,” he said.

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