Moments before checking in as the first patient at the new veterans clinic in Ventura, Debora Ehrich reflected on how long veterans have wanted the facility and the new services that come with it.
“Forever,” said the Camarillo Army veteran.
The newly built clinic opened Tuesday morning at his home just off the 101 freeway at 5250 Ralston Street. At 50,000 square feet, it’s more than twice the size of its predecessor, an Oxnard clinic off Rose Avenue that closed on Friday.
And while the old clinic was run by a contract company, the new center is run and staffed by the VA in a change long advocated by veterans.
The Ventura facility will also bring new services, including dental, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, eye treatment and audiology. Veterans say the new care will mean fewer marathon trips out of county to other VA facilities.
“Coming to LA is insane,” said Joe Richardson, Ventura County Vietnam Veterans secretary. The group lobbied for the new clinic for many years and provided a color guard for Tuesday’s opening.
Veterans will have to wait a little longer for some of the new services that are gradually being rolled out to the site.
Robert C. Merchant, executive director of ambulatory care services at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, said dental services are expected in November and audiology services should begin soon. An eye clinic is expected to open next year.
Immediate services include podiatry, primary care and mental health. A women’s health unit also opened on Tuesday as part of the clinic.
It is the first self-contained unit of its type in the larger Los Angeles system with a separate entrance and waiting area.
The clinic may be named after the late Navy Captain Rosemary Bryant Mariner, the first woman to command an operational air squadron in 1990 at Naval Air Station Ventura County’s Naval Air Station Point Mugu. The site would become only the third of 1,255 VA facilities to be named for female veterans, U.S. Representative Julia Brownley, D-Westlake Village, said in a press release.
“Because so few facilities for veterans are named after women, it reminds us of the inequality that female veterans face,” said Brownley, who led the campaign for the new clinic. His bill formalizing the name passed the House last week and still needs to pass the Senate.
Tuesday morning a bugler played. Vietnam veterans wearing hats that said “Brothers Forever” raised flags in honor of the United States, California and veterans who are missing or taken prisoner of war.
Moments later, Merchant delivered the long-awaited message.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the new VA clinic is open for business,” he said.
Tom Kisken covers health care and other news for the Ventura County Star. Join it at email@example.com or 805-437-0255.
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