Veterans turn out for VAPublished 7:01am Monday, April 28, 2014
At least 400 people celebrated the opening of the new U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs community-based outpatient clinic on Friday in Albert Lea in what officials called the largest turnout they have seen at a clinic opening.
Veterans from all over southern Minnesota and northern Iowa poured into the Skyline Plaza to hear from local and federal officials and to take tours of the clinic.
“It looks great, and it’s going to be awfully nice not having to go up to Minneapolis for everything,” said veteran Dale Jensen, of Albert Lea, who attended the event with his wife, Gloria.
The clinic, in the former Jo-Ann Fabrics store at Skyline Plaza, opened for veterans April 2. At its height, it is expected to serve between 2,500 and 3,000 veterans.
First District U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, DFL-Mankato, said he was proud to see the collaboration that went into the project and noted Albert Lea made its support of veterans clear.
“The community has stood by our veterans time and time again,” he said.
Walz, a 24-year veteran with the Army National Guard and a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, vowed that veterans never be forgotten. The clinic will ensure local veterans access to the health care he said they deserve.
Clyde Markon, with the Minneapolis VA Clinic, echoed Walz’s comments.
“The biggest special thanks needs to go to the people of Albert Lea,” Markon said. “When they say they support their veterans, they mean it.”
The ceremony came five years after the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced its plans for a community-based outpatient clinic in south-central Minnesota. Albert Lea was one of a handful of communities being considered for the location, along with Austin and Owatonna.
After announcing the clinic would be located in Albert Lea last fall, the Department of Veterans Affairs indicated it would be renovated and operated by Louisville, Ky.-based company Valor Healthcare, which operates more than 30 other VA clinics in the country.
Scott Wise, chief operating officer with Valor, a subsidiary of Humana Government Business, said the clinic features highly trained staff who take their jobs seriously. He said the people who were hired to work at the clinic could have worked anywhere in the community but chose to work where they could take care of veterans.
Albert Lea Mayor Vern Rasmussen challenged local residents to make veterans feel welcome and comfortable in the community. He said he looks forward to making Albert Lea a second home for veterans from out of town.
After the ceremony, people in attendance walked outside Skyline Plaza to the entrance of the clinic, where there was a flag-raising ceremony and tours. Residents were also invited to attend a reception.
The clinic will be able to treat veterans for primary care, podiatry and mental health counseling. It will have a dietitian, a social worker and a pharmacist on hand, along with tele retinal and X-ray machinery. Patients can also communicate with doctors at the Minneapolis VA Clinic through computer software.