By Kathy A. Heimbigner
Whether a volunteer or draftee, each and every veteran signed a document agreeing to sacrifice his or her life during service for the United States of America.
That makes a veteran different from the rest of us. They pledged their life to save our freedom.
For that pledge, they were told they would receive benefits — including health care for life — from the United States through the auspices of the Veterans Administration.
In Lewis County, Washington and surrounding areas that promise was broken when the VA chose to close the South Sound/Chehalis Community Outpatient Clinic without advance notice. This was an unexpected and much more than an inconvenient event.
For some veterans who were able to utilize the clinic, this was the furthest they could travel. Travel times were upwards of 75 to 90 minutes one way. Due to traffic, it was often over three hours round trip. That’s a difficult trip for those in pain, disabled with specific needs or with limited funds for gas or payment to a driver.
None of these concerns or issues were apparently considered by VA parties of authority choosing to close the clinic.
They were told to travel farther to a new clinic north in the Olympia and Lacey area, a clinic now over-burdened by appointments. Many are not able to schedule a health appointment. Even if they are, they are frustrated by excessive waiting times in calling the VA system. The limited facilities for these veterans are all further distant.
There are now no VA services from Olympia south, with a two to three hour drive to Vancouver, Washington, the other possibility.
A VA Puget Sound Health Care System newsletter proudly announces no less than 10 VA health facilities in Olympia and north.
A Lewis County resources for veterans document disseminated by the Department of Veterans Affairs shows a high density of veterans in our county. That’s a fact confirmed by the 2020 US Census: 10.4% of the Lewis County population are veterans. That’s approximately 8,500 people.
These are the veterans who “pledged their life to save our freedom,” and more are coming home. They are not receiving the health care promised by the VA.
No VA care in rural areas? These veterans only ask for “what they were promised.”
Perhaps rural veterans do not deserve the same level of medical care, although the challenges can be greater. Travel is only one. Recently the internet was promoted as being necessary statewide. Lewis County has areas with no internet or cellphone service. The privileges of rural living is peace, quiet, country — all allowing a better quality of life.
Lewis County veterans do deserve medical care, specifically a VA staffed clinic in our county.
A sixth meeting of Vets Coffee is focused on proposing a countywide (and beyond) petition to the VA decision makers.
Join in at 8 on Thursday, July 7, at Tall Timber Restaurant in Randle.
Restore a broken promise. Let’s help all veterans in and around Lewis County
Kathy A. Heimbigner is the wife of a veteran.