To celebrate the significant expansion of services, a grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony was held at the clinic Jan. 22. Leaders from VA, Indian Health Service and Navajo Nation all spoke during the event.
“This is a huge step in making good on our obligation to serve our Native Veterans as well as they’ve served us and our country,” said Steve Sample, medical center director.
Navajo Nation VA Director Bobbie Ann Baldwin spoke to some about the challenges that Veterans in Chinle and surrounding areas face when accessing health care. “One of the things our Veterans face every day is getting to the clinic in Phoenix, in Albuquerque, in Salt Lake City. But now we have a clinic here in our backyard where we’ll be able to receive the services we so desperately need. Only having to travel 10 miles versus 300-plus miles is going to make a vast difference in our lives,” Baldwin said.
“Sometimes, service and sacrifice continue beyond the time the service ends.”
Kevin Gaines, chief medical officer for Navajo Area Indian Health Service, expressed how important health care improvements like these are to Veterans in the area.
“I’m excited and pleased anytime we can expand or provide advanced services to our Veterans, particularly those who have served in combat. Sometimes, service and sacrifice continue even beyond the time the service ends for those who have been traumatized through their combat experiences. I welcome the expanded clinic here and future expanded benefits we can provide for those who have served our country,” Gaines said.
VA has been hard at work to find sustainable solutions to the health care gap that has been evident for Native and rural Veterans throughout the country.
This step to bring consistent face-to-face health care services directly to the Native and rural Veterans it serves is one of the first efforts of its kind in the nation.
Bryan Arnette, deputy director, Desert Pacific Healthcare Network, the regional office that includes Northern Arizona, said VA hopes to use this success as a blueprint for other VA health care systems.
“This is a milestone we get to celebrate that helps us figure out how we might replicate this for our Native and rural health communities across the country,” Arnette said.
Later this year, VA will be introducing the same enhanced health care services to its clinics in Kayenta, Polacca and Tuba City.