Area veterans facing loss of VA Clinic at North Valley Hospital

No matter what side of the political spectrum you stand on most of us agree we can’t do enough for our veterans — the people we entrust to guard our rights and fight our battles.

While the U.S. continues to spend more and more on new weapon systems, one thing is often overlooked in our strategic planning — our veterans, especially when it comes to their healthcare. Now comes word that the VA Clinic in Tonasket will be shutting down in July and our veterans, nearly 900 of them who had signed up to the use the clinic, will be faced with having to go elsewhere and travel great distances to receive treatment.

Web-Editorial-Gary-MugWhile it was too late this week to get a notice in the newspaper about the meeting being planned for Wednesday at 4 p.m. at Tonasket Elementary to discuss the closure, we have posted it online so hopefully people will get the message to come and attend this Town Hall discussion.

I called veteran Michael Stewart, who was there at the start of the VA Clinic at North Valley Hospital and he said the VA Clinic was just becoming too expensive to operate.

“Basically over the last six years the clinic lost $2 million,” he said. “When the VA started up the clinic they said they would be there to help and that it wouldn’t make money, but it wouldn’t lose money either. So they’ve abandoned it.”

He adds that the hospital district didn’t realize five years ago they could renegotiate their contract every year.

“The VA is now looking to control patients more through the VA or the Choice system. Colville went with Choice, Republic closed because they couldn’t find a provider,” he said.

Stewart doesn’t blame the hospital district, he says it did the best they could within the restraints that were put on the district.

“This is just part of the evolution of VA healthcare,” he says. “It is forcing the 853 area veterans that signed up to scramble to find treatment.”

Stewart says there are basically three choices for area vets: Getting a Choice Card and finding a primary care provider in the area; going to Spokane or Wenatchee and reusing their system or using the Mobile Clinic which will be in the area three times between July and September.

Stewart says the transportation bus remains in service for veterans, but many don’t look forward to riding to Spokane or Wenatchee for treatment, especially after it had been available so close to home.

Our country needs to make some hard decisions about how it spends our taxpayer dollars — whether you believe that corporate welfare or welfare for low income people is the problem, the U.S. wastes a lot of money on special interests. Rather than throwing money at a wall we need to rebuild America’s infrastructure first — roads, bridges, schools and healthcare, including providing the best healthcare available for our veterans.

We’ll have someone covering the meeting in Tonasket on Wednesday and report back to you next week.

About Gary DeVon

Gary DeVon is the managing editor of the Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune and celebrated his 25th year at the newspaper in August 2012. He graduated from Gonzaga University with a degree in Communications - Print Journalism, with an emphasis in photojournalism. He is a proud alumnus of Oroville High School. His family first settled in Okanogan County in the late 1800s. His parents are Judy DeVon and the late Larry DeVon and he has two younger brothers - Dante and Michael. Many family members still call Oroville home. He has a grown daughter, Segornae Douglas and a young granddaughter, Erin.