VA clinics to boost care for valley's veterans

There seemed to be little public interest when the Veterans Administration opened the doors to the gleaming new facility last Sept. 27, providing thousands of veterans living in Summerlin and elsewhere in northwest Las Vegas with the finest, most up-to-date health care clinic available.

But perhaps the lack of public notice shouldn't come as a surprise. That's because of an alarming malaise that has infected a sizeable percentage of the general population concerning Americans who have fought on foreign soil at the behest of their country. More to the point, this dissatisfaction continues to generate an apathetic attitude toward the tens of thousands of veterans, many of whom are genuine heroes, returning from active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Too often the men and women who fought in foreign wars ---- many of whom were maimed in combat, yet still are among the fortunate ones to come home alive ---- have received little public recognition for their efforts.

But the Veterans Administration's new Northwest Clinic, 3968 N. Rancho Drive, is one small way of conveying a token of appreciation to the many who helped by proudly wearing their uniforms and now require help of another kind in return.

The clinic was the first of four modern health care facilities being built in the Las Vegas area, designed to help veterans readjust physically, mentally and, to some extent, socially. Recognizing the increasing difficulties faced by veterans, the Northwest Clinic has introduced "primary care and mental health services that utilize VA's new Patient Aligned Care Team, or PACT, as a health care delivery model," said John B. Bright, director of the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System.

"The PACT model is a team approach for managing the health care needs of veterans through a multi-disciplinary team of providers," Bright added. The team includes doctors and nurses, and pharmacy and nutrition staff.

But more than that, Bright explained how the new clinical approach gets to the very heart of a problem that has plagued returning war veterans for decades.

"The team is also responsible for understanding the veteran's living conditions, family dynamics and cultural background to help in providing preventive health services," he said, adding that case management for returning Afghanistan and Iraqi war veterans is of immediate concern to professionals at the Northwest Clinic.

Additionally, the "state-of-the-art clinic" will generally improve primary care services for veterans throughout the northwest part of the valley, making health care "more accessible and consistent," Bright said.

The number of veterans has burgeoned since the start of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, necessitating a system better able to deal with a broader range of problems incurred by veterans ---- often difficulties that exceed primary health care needs. When completed, the four new clinics "will replace existing short-term leased sites of care established when the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System vacated its ambulatory care center," Bright explained.

According to VA estimates, there are 243,900 veterans living in Nevada, of whom 168,183 reside in Clark County.

"The veteran population for the Summerlin area is not broken out specifically," Bright added.

The Northwest Clinic is a 35,000-square-foot facility with ample parking and is being leased at $1.9 million a year. It cost the government $5 million to furnish and equip the building.

Approximately 1,200 veterans receive health care each week at the Northwest Clinic, which has a staff of 64 physicians, nurses and other health care professionals. In addition, there are numerous volunteers, largely from veterans organizations.

The other three clinics, appropriately located, will be similar in size, providing comparable amenities.

"Basically, the four VA clinics are part of a comprehensive master plan to enhance VA health care services in Southern Nevada," Bright said. "The VA-staffed and -operated clinics will eventually be strategically located in each corner of the valley to provide primary care and mental health services for veterans residing in those respective areas."

A second facility, the Southeast Clinic, opened Nov. 15 at Boulder Highway and Racetrack Road. The other two clinics, which are scheduled to open this spring, include the Southwest Clinic at Buffalo Drive and Warm Springs Road and the Northeast Clinic at Charleston and Lamb boulevards.

Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. His newest novel, "All For Nothing," is now available. Contact him at