Busy New London VA clinic has preliminary OK to expand

New London — The Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic here, the busiest in the state serving about 4,600 veterans, has received preliminary approval to expand.

The new details on the clinic's status were shared during a town hall meeting hosted at the Science and Technology Magnet High School on Friday by U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.

Gerald Culliton, director of the Connecticut VA Healthcare System, said there's funding and approval for the design, "the first part of the approval process to move forward with the new clinic or an enhanced clinic space." Engineers and architects can now start working on the design specifications of the new clinic, he added.

The John J. McGuirk VA Outpatient Clinic, which focuses on primary and mental health care, is housed in a 4,900-square-foot office in Shaw's Cove. Ideally, the VA would like to double its size. The plan is to expand the clinic within its existing location or keep it close by, Culliton said.

The New London clinic isn't alone. The VA says several of its other clinics, which leases are set to expire, will need to relocate to larger spaces. The New London clinic's lease is due to expire Sept. 30, and the VA will work out an arrangement until it finds another space, said Pamela Redmond, a spokeswoman.

Ideally, every doctor would have two exam rooms: one where a patient could undress and get ready for his or her appointment while a patient is getting examined in the next room, said John Callahan, associate director of the Connecticut VA Healthcare System. The new design for the New London clinic will be based on the VA's new patient-driven, team-based model of care formally known as Patient Aligned Care Team, or PACT.

Culliton specifically mentioned the need for more space for mental health services and VA's emergent telehealth operation, where veterans in New London can connect with specialists in West Haven, for example.

President Donald Trump last week announced new initiatives to expand the VA's existing telehealth services, including a new application to allow veterans to use their mobile phones to make and manage appointments at the VA.

Veterans were able to ask questions and raise issues during the town hall meeting. A common sentiment seemed to be difficulty in getting younger veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to join various veteran service organizations and to get care at the VA.

Veterans in the room Friday hypothesized that younger veterans feel these organizations don't apply to them, or that they think they're not eligible for care at the VA if they don't have a physical injury like a missing limb.

j.bergman@theday.com

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