Good Life

New VA health care facility coming to Centre County

Members of the Nittany Leathernecks oversee the Veterans Day ceremony outside the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte in 2013.
Members of the Nittany Leathernecks oversee the Veterans Day ceremony outside the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte in 2013. CDT file photo

In the near future, local veterans will have a new health care facility at their disposal.

Veterans Affairs plans to build a 13,000-square-foot State College outpatient clinic off Clyde Avenue in College Township. The clinic will more than double the space of the present VA facility in Cato Park in Ferguson Township.

With more room, the Clyde Avenue clinic will be able to offer more specialty services in addition to primary care, such as flu shots and shingles vaccines for its approximately 4,000 patients, said Andrea Young, public affairs officer for the James E. Van Zandt VA Medical Center in Altoona.

“It’s going to be an amazing change,” Young said. “Because right now, we don’t have enough space for the staff we have.”

As an example, she said, the social worker assigned to the State College clinic actually works out of the Altoona medical center. But under the new clinic, that person would be based locally.

The State College clinic offers limited audiology, podiatry, optometry and behavior health care among its specialty services.

Young said a major addition in the new clinic will be telemedicine equipment to provide care at a distance.

One primary use, psychiatry and behavioral health sessions, would use live video-conferencing to treat individuals or groups.

“We could have one of our psychiatrists here in Altoona seeing patients over the video conference and then being able to address their mental health needs,” Young said.

Another use, called “store and forward,” would expand dermatology care. In State College, a nurse or technician would photograph skin patches and send the images to a dermatologist at a West Virginia VA hospital to review, make a diagnosis and recommend treatment.

Young said telemedicine can also be used for physical and speech rehabilitation, weight loss and other programs. The capability, she said, will save patients the time and expense of having to drive to Altoona or even as far as Pittsburgh for the same services.

“We’re definitely looking forward to the expansion,” she said.

Construction could start later this year toward a goal of opening in the late fall or early winter.

Last year, the VA completed a similar project in DuBois, remodeling a commercial building into an 18,000-square-foot clinic.

“It has just created such a nicer environment for the veterans,” Young said.

In light of the Affordable Care Act’s insurance mandates, Young encouraged all veterans, but especially recent retirees and older, to apply for VA health benefits by going to www.va.gov and following the health care links.

“If you have VA benefits, you’re considered covered,” she said. “You don’t have to get additional insurance.”

The James E. Van Zandt VA Medical Center offers a full range of diagnostic and specialty care services, as well as the Community Living Center, a nursing home on the upper floors.

Space in the CLC is limited, and eligible veterans must have a service-related disability, such as Parkinson’s disease from Agent Orange exposure. They also cannot move in from another nursing home or assisted-living facility.

Both the medical center and the State College clinic have case managers ready to answer questions about the CLC, benefit enrollment and services such as the VA’s Homeless Veterans Program.

Local veterans being treated in Altoona can arrange a ride through the Disabled American Veterans Van Transportation Program, jointly provided by the Centre County Veterans Affairs office and the Community Help Centre.

Pickup points are at the Willowbank Building in Bellefonte, the Pleasant Gap Uni-Mart store, the Port Matilda Lykens Market store, the Centre Hall American Legion post and the State College VA clinic.

Call 355-6812, ext. 2, at least three days before your appointment.

The county Veterans Affairs office serves as a one-stop resource for assisting veterans and their families. Among its services, it can submit applications for VA, county, state and federal veterans benefits; counsel veterans on the VA health care system; guide requests for military records; and obtain funds to offset burial expenses.

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