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Roane County’s veterans got a good look at the new Veterans Affairs Community Based Outpatient Clinic and its staff during its open house Wednesday in Shoppes at Walden Ridge.
Congressman Chuck Fleischmann; officials from Humana, who will be operating the clinic through a contract with the VA; and local, state and other federal officials joined the veterans for the ribbon-cutting ceremony and tours.
“It has been needed for a long time,” said Clyde Luttrell, an Oliver Springs veteran who had previously traveled to Knoxville for treatment.
“I just retired recently from the state, and I’m going to start utilizing my veteran services and rights,” Luttrell said. “I’m entitled to it, so I’m going to start using it.”
Juan Morales, Tennessee Valley Healthcare System Director, and Fleischmann worked together to bring healthcare for veterans back to Roane County.
“I worked so hard with Director Morales and the Veterans Administration to get a new clinic open,” Fleischmann said.
“This place is beautiful. It is going to serve the needs of men and women who have served our country so well for years to come, and it is truly a great legacy and it is so wonderful to be here today with all the outstanding veterans.”
They heard from veterans who were concerned the clinic would not reopen.
“We made a commitment we would work to see the clinic reopen, and we would do it the right way,” Morales said.
Morales said they decided to make the quality of services a priority and ensure staff were committed to the clinic and its patients.
“That made a huge difference,” Morales said. “I talked to several veterans this morning that got their care from other clinics and started getting care here — and they are very happy.
“They gave it a thumbs up.”
Morales said Humana has a great working relationship with the VA, and he believes they will make a huge difference in the Roane County clinic.
Fleischmann said they worked hard to bring a VA hospital to the former Roane Medical Center facility in downtown Harriman.
But when it became clear that wouldn’t happen, officials refocused on keeping the clinic in Roane County.
Harriman veteran Howard Galyon is so enthused with the new clinic and its staff that he doesn’t limit his visits only to times he has an appointment.
“Every once in awhile, I just stop by and say hello,” he said.
The atmosphere they’ve created is appreciated.
“They will make an effort to help you any way they can, and they don’t push you around,” Galyon said.
Galyon, who served in the U.S. Army Air Force, said he was the first patient to sign up at the new clinic.
The staff definitely has a connection to the veterans, particularly to licensed practical nurse Darlene Limburg.
Her father-in-law, husband, son, daughter and son-in-law have served or are serving in branches of the military.
Old and new pictures of her family in service sit in her office.
Limburg feels her personal knowledge of their sacrifice helps her bond with the veterans.
“I love them — I do,” she said. “I absolutely love them. It is very rewarding.”
She added, “It is very easy to communicate with them. You know what they are feeling.”
The new facility offers a number of services, including well-woman visits.
Limburg said they see more female veterans than before.
“Now the women I think are taking advantage (of those services),” Limburg said.
Melissa Wertz is the face greeting veterans when they first go into the office.
She works at the front desk and as a laboratory technician.
Wertz was unemployed when she found out about this job.
“I am very thankful,” she said. “My uncle, he is a veteran, and I think he was even more tickled than I was I got the job.”
Services at the clinic include a lab, primary care, mental health and telehealth specialties like tele-retinal services.
“We have a lot of PTSD people,” said Diane Holzheuer, clinic administrator.
The National Institute of Mental Health said PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder, “develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. The person who develops PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to loved ones or strangers.”
The clinic is open from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays.