Proposed VA clinic at forefront of new plan

Published on Saturday, 5 April 2014 23:52 - Written by Kelly Gooch kgooch@tylerpaper.com

For local military veteran Larry Pattings, traveling to the Dallas VA Medical Center can be unpleasant.

The 75-year-old retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2, who is 80 percent disabled, said it’s “a bummer” to be confined in a driver’s seat for that long, and he must take pain medicine to get through the experience.

He goes to the Dallas VA Medical Center at least twice a year, in addition to the care he receives at the Tyler VA Primary Care Clinic.

But Pattings might not have to make as many trips to Dallas once a VA clinic comes to Tyler.

The proposed VA clinic is one example of what committee members are trying to achieve through the Veteran and Military Growth Initiative, which is described in initiative literature as “an innovative strategic plan aligned with the Industry Growth Initiative and Tyler 1st (the city’s comprehensive plan) to create economic and community development in Tyler using veteran and military focused strategies.”

The goals of the Veteran and Military Growth Initiative are to “strengthen the Tyler/Smith County community, generate cost-savings to local government (and) increase revenue brought into Tyler/Smith County.”

The initiative has been endorsed by the Mayor’s Veterans Community Roundtable, the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce Veterans Committee, Tyler’s Leadership Roundtable and the Tyler City Council, according to a news release.

It also received an endorsement from the chamber Governmental Affairs Committee, and later this month the Veteran and Military Growth Initiative committee members will seek an endorsement from the chamber board, said Gretchen Martens, chairwoman of the Veteran and Military Growth Initiative committee.

She said Veteran and Military Growth Initiative ideas, which involve public-private partnership, education/21st Century energy, health care/bio-med, arts and entertainment, tourism, 21st Century transportation, infrastructure, second career retirees and innovation economy, all have had some implementation. For instance, she said, an art show for veterans took place last fall in conjunction with the city’s Veterans Day celebration.

And now Veteran and Military Growth Initiative committee members are looking to “build onto the next step,” Ms. Martens said.

“What we were guided to do was to get those endorsements before we really went into an implementation phase, so that we knew that we had that strong community support so that people in the community would know what we were doing,” she said.

Ms. Martens said an increasing documentation of veterans in Smith County helped provide a foundation for the second VA clinic in Tyler.

Lehebron Farr, operations administrator for the Tyler VA Primary Care Clinic, said the proposed 10,000-square-foot project would offer “expanded primary care” with more doctors, nurses and support staff.

He said the solicitation phase with area vendors is currently underway, and he hopes the project will be completed in late summer or early fall.

Once the clinic is complete, it will begin to attract veterans from around East Texas into Tyler for their health care, Ms. Martens said, and is a way of growing the local economy through more job opportunities.

“So all of this starts to really bring in more people and more revenue to Tyler,” she said.

The reasoning behind the Veteran and Military Growth Initiative, Ms. Martens cited, is “the human side of it.”

When local veterans, particularly those who are elderly and sick, or disabled, have to spend a day traveling to Dallas or Shreveport, La., for health care, a lot of effort is involved, Ms. Martens said.

“It’s exhausting. It’s time consuming for veterans who work. They often don’t get that care because they can’t take a whole day off of work, and literally people will spend an entire day for a 45-minute appointment. So there’s that human importance of good customer service, of having people be able to get care in their local community,” she said.

Ms. Martens also referenced “cost to the community.”

“If we can get veterans connected with the care they need through the VA, we save money at our local government level,” she said.

Lastly, in talking about why the Veteran and Military Growth Initiative is important, she said more than half of veterans coming home aren’t doing well, and there is a need to help them have a smooth transition.

Veteran and Military Growth Initiative committee member Lynne Spivey said points of the initiative overall are “aimed toward getting Tyler to see the positive side of the ledger.”

“We want them to focus on all of the positives of serving veterans in the community,” she added.

Ms. Martens said she believes the Veteran and Military Growth Initiative is different in that “it looks at veterans not just from the needs perspective but from the opportunities perspective.”

She said there have already been discussions about creating something similar to Luminant Academy, but with a focus on training veterans, either in the trades or in the oil and gas industry.

However, she noted that the discussions are preliminary, and more discussion would need to happen to further develop the idea.

The initiative has led to the idea of Tyler being “America’s Most Veteran Friendly Community,” Ms. Martens said.

She said a strong foundation is in place for that.

“Tyler is rapidly becoming a national model for how we welcome veterans home,” she said. “People in other areas talk about Tyler. That’s a strong foundation for us to build on.”

She said there also have been preliminary discussions with local radio stations for doing public service announcements related to veterans.

And Ms. Spivey said there has been response to the initiative at various local levels, and different groups will coordinate as implementation of the initiative moves forward.

For more information on the initiative, contact Ms. Martens at 703-622-0919 or at Gretchen@TheVeteranLady.com.