Southeast Alaska veterans will now have a health care option that's closer to home. The new Veterans Affairs Outreach Clinic located on the first floor of the Juneau Federal Building downtown opens Tuesday.
"We're very excited to have a presence in Southeast Alaska," said Alex Spector, director of the Alaska VA Healthcare System. "Our veterans deserve this.
"This facility is VA's commitment to recognize their service and we thank them very much. This is their clinic."
The center will offer basic primary care, screening services, mental health services and referrals for specialized care. There will also be urgent care provided, but not emergency care.
The clinic opens with a staff of eight, including a doctor, mental health provider, lab technician, nurses and administrative support.
The outreach clinic will work in cooperation with the Coast Guard, sharing the existing laboratory.
"We've been working with the VA before, so this was built so we could provide doctors or hearing tests when they needed it," said Captain Melissa Bert, Commander U.S. Coast Guard Sector Juneau.
She said besides the lab, the Coast Guard's audio testing equipment will be used by the new clinic.
Elizabeth Bochynski, the clinic's nurse manager, described the ability to share resources in this location as "mucho cool."
The facility occupies about 3,500 square feet with separate examination rooms and waiting area.
Spector said the realization of a VA clinic in the Southeast was "a long time coming," as many local veterans have to travel for care, sometimes to Anchorage and many times to the lower 48.
Bert said she's amazed that hundreds have had to travel away from their families to get medical attention before now. She said this adds to the value of Juneau since many who serve in Alaska ultimately make their homes in the Southeast.
"I think the bigger thing for the Coast Guard is being able to come home. A lot of people love Southeast Alaska when they get stationed here, so it's our home," she said.
Spector said about 10 percent of those who serve in Alaska do so in Southeast., which consists of at least 7,000 veterans. He said there are currently around 1,500 enlisted in the Alaska VA Healthcare System.
While there are other VA medical facilities throughout the state, this is the second outreach clinic, with the other being in Homer.
The Federal Building is managed by General Service Administration. GSA regional administrator George Northcroft said the facility was made possible through $7.9 million of Alaska's $15.6 million in recovery dollars.
He said the GSA and VA worked together to build this once the location was established.
Bochynski said veterans have been requesting services for decades. She explained that using federal property space was required for the clinic because federal money was used for it. This space became available and was approved by the Secretary for Veteran Affairs in 2008.
She said the facility has been in progress since then, with some delays due to finding new designs and getting the new space on the first floor after the original plans for the second floor revealed the clinic wouldn't have been contiguous.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Saturday afternoon. Several VIPs attended, including elected officials, veterans, Native group elders, GSA representatives and veteran service organizations.
The Civil Air Patrol performed the opening ceremony.
During this ceremony Ozzie Sheakley of Southeast Alaska Native Veterans presented a framed image of a Native warrior pole, consisting of a raven and eagle within the totem pole. Sheakley explained the significance of the birds standing in protection and honor of those who died in battle as well as the absence of division among the different peoples who serve in Southeast Alaska.
Clinic hours will be 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday. The main phone number is (907) 796-4300.
Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.