GALLIPOLIS — During a health/enrollment fair and holiday open house held on Wednesday at the Gallipolis VA Clinic on Upper River Road, officials with the Huntington VA Medical Center were on hand to answer questions and promote the clinic that has now been open in Gallipolis for over three years.
In addition to free health screenings, including blood pressure and cholesterol checks, as well as flu shots and pneumonia shots, veterans were encouraged on Wednesday to enroll for VA care if they have not done so already.
According to Debbie Brammer, Public Affairs Officer with the Huntington VA Medical Center, in the three years since its opening, the Gallipolis clinic has grown tremendously, picking up hundreds of new patients and reaching out to veterans in the area.
“It’s going very well. We originally opened two days a week and now we’re open four days a week. We’ve seen our number grow from 700 or 800 in the beginning to over 1,300 now, but we think that there are still veterans out there that may not be aware that we are here. Sometimes veterans don’t fully understand their eligibility,” Brammer said. “If they are eligible for care, we want them to enroll.”
Brammer also spoke on Wednesday afternoon of the services that are provided at the clinic, including a new telehealth program that allows local veterans to access mental health care and other services without having to travel to the medical center in Huntington.
“This is a primary care clinic, so we offer primary care services, but we also offer some specialty services such as mental health through what we call ‘teleconferencing,’ and we’re actually in the process of putting that in right now,” she said.
Kathryn Hamlin, who works in health promotion through the VA, also spoke of the new telehealth feature at the Gallipolis location while encouraging all veterans to determine their eligibility for local health care through the VA.
“A lot of times I’m meeting veterans that feel like, ‘oh, someone needs it worse than I do.’ We just want them to know that we are here for them and all the services that we have available,” Hamlin said. “Services that we don’t have right here directly, like mental health services, we can hook right up with Huntington and see the provider without having to travel there, some educational classes and things like that. It’s a nice thing for them to stay in their community.”
Hamlin further reported that the reason for Wednesday’s open house was to get information out to local veterans in regard to the requirements for the Affordable Care Act and the changes coming as a result of the new health care law.
“We are just trying to get the word out and, especially, with the affordable care act and all of that going on, letting them know that if they are enrolled in VA care, that meets the requirements for having insurance. You don’t need anything more,” Hamlin said.
Also on hand during Wednesday’s enrollment fair was Sue Yancy, a homeless outreach specialist, who, in addition to working in Huntington at the homeless outreach center for veterans, will be traveling to Gallia County once a week in an effort to gauge the need for services in relation to homeless veterans in the area.
“My position is to come to where the veterans are, so once a week, on Mondays, I’ll be coming to the Gallia County area to drop in to some of the agencies, local hospitals and the clinic to see if they have encountered any veterans who are homeless or at risk of being homeless,” Yancy said. “That the key, that they don’t have to be homeless yet, but we want to try to work with them to do whatever we can to hopefully keep them in their apartment or house to avoid them or their family members becoming homeless.”
Yancy reported that as a part of the homeless outreach program, social workers will be made available to veterans of the area who may need assistance in relation to legal issues, substance abuse problems, or unemployment.
“We have specialists that will be coming to the Gallia County area to work with veterans on working on their skills, helping them find jobs,” Yancy said. “So that is new for our homeless outreach center that we’re going to start coming to the Gallia County area.”
She further reported that, thus far, she has not seen a great number of homeless veterans in the area, but reported that this may be a result of a lack of resources in the area and homeless veterans may be leaving the area for more urban locations.
“There are a lot of times there’s somebody who is living just one paycheck away from being homeless, so our goal is to reach those people before they’re at risk of losing their home,” Yancy stated.
Yancy further reported on the various programs available to veterans through the outreach center while also stating that veterans in the area would be eligible to receive transportation to the Huntington area to their outreach center where they could receive food, clothing and other services. However, she further reported that it could be arranged that she bring such goods to the area herself for any veteran in need.
Brammer reported that this latest push to assist veterans who may be homeless or in risk of becoming homeless is part of a goal set forth by the Veterans Administration to end homelessness among veterans in the next two years.
“The VA has set a goal of ending homelessness by 2015 and so we are working really hard, from the Huntington VA Medical Center side, to reach out now and identify those need assistance and those that may be one paycheck away from homelessness and let them know that we’re there and we have resources for them,” Brammer said.
Gallia County Veterans Service Office Executive Director John Thomas also reported on Wednesday of his office’s continued support of the VA Clinic that is located adjacent to his office at 323 Upper River Road in Gallipolis behind the Super 8 Motel — a convenient location as veterans wishing to get help with claims and other information can stop by his office, while also signing up for health care at the VA Clinic.
“As far as the clinic goes, we support one another,” Thomas said while reporting that there are approximately 2,430 veterans living in Gallia County, while approximately 2,311 veterans are currently residing in Meigs County.
“We are trying to do everything we can to boost their enrollment numbers so we can make it more viable,” he said. “They are now open four days a week. They started out at three days a week and we are striving to get them open a full five days a week.”
Overall, Brammer reported that Wednesday’s open house was a success as her agency continues to get the word out about the location in Gallipolis to all the local veterans in the area in the hope that the clinic can continue to expand to provide service to more and more veterans in Gallia and surrounding counties.
“We just want Veterans to know that we want them to either go online, call the medical center or come here to the clinic to find out if they are eligible for care or not because I think there are a lot of veterans out there that are not aware that they are eligible for care,” Brammer said. “We want to continue to grow and expand as we do the telehealth and provide more services with the possibility of maybe expanding.”
For more information on enrolling for VA health care or for more information on the homeless outreach program, call the Gallipolis VA Clinic at (740) 446-3934. The clinic is open Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.