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Lebanon VA Medical Center experiences growth, change

Changes are afoot at the Lebanon VA Medical Center.

Changes are afoot at the Lebanon VA Medical Center.

A recently announced patient account center will bring up to 450 full-time jobs to the Lebanon VA Medical
Center’s main campus
beginning next year. The center is slated to open in 2011.

The federal government recently approved a new, $1.9 million
Women’s Clinic at the Lebanon campus to provide specialized care to the
increasing number of female veterans, said Norman Faas Jr., a public-affairs
officer who works at the Lebanon VA for the U.S. Department of Veterans
Affairs
.

The wing, which will be added to an existing floor, will
take about nine months to complete, he said.

The Lebanon VA
also continues to adapt to the increasing stream of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The sprawling South
Lebanon Township
main campus and its six outpatient clinics serve 13 counties in Pennsylvania and employ
1,329 people.

“We serve approximately 43,000 vets in Lebanon, and
that accumulates to well over 100,000 visits per year,” Faas said.

Gretchen Roberts, the center’s program manager for Operation
Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), did not supply  the number of veterans at the center from Iraq and Afghanistan or how many the center
anticipates serving in the coming years.

“Obviously, the number is increasing every year. What I can
tell you is a lot of what we do nationally is work closely with the (U.S.)
Department of Defense so we can anticipate the growth,” she said.

Roberts said the center still sees a good mix of veterans
from Iraq and Afghanistan,
along with those from prior conflicts.

“I think we’re really going to see (veterans from) OEF and
OIF really penetrate more in the coming years,” she said.

No single health issue is most common among veterans
returning from the Middle East, Roberts said,
and veterans who sustain serious injuries typically first receive care through
the Department of Defense.

“I think we see a lot of things – from a physical
standpoint, some (veterans) come home with things we expect, like muscle or
joint pain,” she said. “We see a need of supportive counseling for
readjustment.”

One main way the center responds to these vets’ needs is by
offering them “one-stop shopping.”

“If (a veteran) comes in and they need assistance with
getting a job, counseling and to be seen by a doctor, we can get all three of
those things accomplished, and they don’t have to make multiple trips,” Roberts
said.

The VA offers OEF and OIF veterans medical exams, dental
care, case management, referrals to other agencies, treatment for psychological
or emotional issues, and behavioral health care to deal with combat stress,
according to its Web site.

That’s a lot to navigate, so each veteran is assigned an
individual to guide them through the process.

“OEF, OIF (veterans) are newer; these are folks who really
need a coordinator of care,” Roberts said. “They need a friendly face to help
them figure (things) out.”

A key part of her job is educating veterans about the
services available to them, Roberts said, including a new provision that
extends the period returning Iraq
and Afghanistan
veterans have to receive free VA care from two years to five years.

“We do outreach events where we can target (veterans) where
they are and partner with them,” Roberts said. “There’s a lot of being very
flexible. If (a veteran’s) pressing issue is financial assistance or
counseling, we’ll do that. If it’s a medical need, we’ll help that way. We’re
looking at meeting needs on a case-by-case basis.”

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