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VA dedicates new facility

Staff Writer | October 6, 2022 1:00 AM

KOOTENAI — “The VA has planted a flag in North Idaho,” Bryan Hult, Bonner County Veterans Service officer, said to loud applause as the new Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic was dedicated Wednesday.

“The VA is here to stay,” Hult told the crowd of veterans who gathered to raise the flag and dedicate the new office at 130 McGhee Road in Kootenai, off Highway 200.

Hult, a retired brigadier general, expressed deep gratitude for the new facility and the lives it will save as he led the hundred or so gathered in a moment of remembrance for those veterans lost.

Dr. Rob Fischer, regional director for VA care, listed off several services that the primary care facility will provide. “Vaccinations, screenings, tests, exams, things of that nature.”

“This represents a much more hopeful future for veterans care in North Idaho,” he said.

Navy veteran Robert Hemming and the Combat Veterans Riders, a motorcycle club chartered out of Coeur d’Alene, raised the flag. The club, whose mission is “veterans riding for veterans,” participates in several charity events per year.

Members’ jackets list the names of fallen veterans that the riders knew. Some jackets had almost a dozen names of fallen vets, who “ride with us from above” as Hemming put it. The club recently held its annual POW/MIA ride in Spokane Valley.

Kim Waller, the rural health coordinator for the region, said she was most optimistic about the facility’s growth potential. STG International, who runs several similar facilities around the country, signed a contract for 10 years with the VA to serve veterans in the area.

Before the clinic was established, VA officials said it was common for area veterans to have to go to urgent care or the ER for services that will now be accessible at the Kootenai facility. Larry Peterson, a veteran who attended, described “maxing out” of urgent care visits on his insurance. “You only get so many visits a month and then you're copayed out,” Robert Crowley, another veteran in attendance, added.

STGi spokesperson Candice Burnside brought up the two full primary care teams that the facility will provide. Burnside, Fischer, and Waller all said that the two new teams will be key in serving area veterans. Fischer estimated that the two patient aligned care teams would be fully operational by the end of the month.

“The VA is listening,” VA public affairs officer Brett Bowers said.

Bowers referenced a VA town hall a few years ago, where the need for higher care capacity was brought up by the public.

Bowers also mentioned the State Veterans’ Home that will be opening in Post Falls on Nov. 11. Bowers said the closest facility in Idaho for homeless vets is currently in Lewiston. He said the facility will have around 90 beds.

The clinic’s first day of business was Tuesday, Oct. 4. It is open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. and is located at 130 McGhee Road, Suite 101, in Kootenai (by Litehouse in the old Coldwater Creek building).