Quality care, community unity the mission of new VA clinic in Georgetown

GEORGETOWN – Vietnam veteran Frank Bolen Sr. returned to America 48 years ago to a nation divided.

“In 1969 I came home at the age of 19 from a place we called ‘Nam.’ I was very confused and a broken man,” said the 67-year-old Dagsboro resident. “No one cared about us veterans back then. I grew my hair long and I told my friends that I had dropped out of college. I didn’t want anybody to know I was a Vietnam veteran. I tried to get help but I was scared. I knew I had changed. I was no longer that 17-year-old boy that joined the Marines to fight a war.”

Back then one of the closest Veterans Affairs clinics was in Cambridge, MD.

“They were pretty depressing places. Buildings that were left over from the 1920s is where they put us,” said Mr. Bolen. “It was a long drive, especially when veterans were not accepted as they are today. We were not greeted very well there.”

“He is right,” said U.S. Sen. Thomas Carper. “We didn’t get the kind of welcome that we afford our returning soldiers, sailors and airmen today. It wasn’t fun. It hurt. But we decided to do something about it.”

Times have changed. Friday, Mr. Bolen – and Sen. Carper, a Navy veteran who did three tours of Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War – were among the many military veterans on hand for the ribbon-cutting dedication of the new Sussex County VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic.

“I stand before you, before this beautiful building and watch these cars ride by. People see a clean beautiful building of brick and mortar,” said Mr. Bolen. “I turn around and I look at this building. I see a place of hope and healing for all of the veterans. This is a place where I feel safe, just like all of my other veterans.”

The new state-of-the-art clinic replaces a much smaller facility in the Georgetown Plaza. It opened its doors to veteran patients in September.

Mr. Bolen is one of the 3,700 veterans served by the new Sussex County outpatient clinic located on Roth Avenue across from Delaware Technical Community College in Georgetown

“I come here for care. I have been to many, many VA facilities, too many to count. None have matched up or even come close to the VA in Georgetown,” Mr. Bolen said. “Inside this building they have given us the finest doctors, specialists, nurses and support staff around. It is ours for the asking. My hope is that every veteran from every war walks through these doors and receives the help they need. You earned it.”

The new location features primary care exam rooms, behavioral health consultation rooms;  dedicated telehealth rooms, medical specialty and clinical procedure rooms and dedicated women’s health rooms.  It measures approximately 10,000 sq. ft., which is 2,500 square feet larger than its predecessor in the Georgetown Plaza.

Meg-Marie Ryan, the new clinic’s nurse manager in charge of day-to-day operations, said she and her staff consider this more than just work.

“This is not a job. This is a calling. So many of my staff are veterans and those of us who are not, we have family members that are,” said Ms. Ryan. “This is truly a calling for us. When we say we are here for the veterans we are not joking. Some days it’s a hard job. But every day it is a rewarding job. I say that truly from the heart. I believe that is what my staff portrays in the care of the veterans.”

The clinic provides a slew of services; general practice, psychiatric, behavioral health and occupational therapy. It is armed with social workers including a suicide prevention social worker.

Services are even taken on the road for veterans unable to travel to the clinic. “They are primary care on wheels; it is an incredible group of practitioners,” Ms. Ryan said.

The largely-attended dedication included numerous local and state officials, as well as veterans. Three World War II veterans were among those on hand.

The Delaware National Guard provided the Presentation of Colors, Sussex Tech High School’s Army JROTC provided official welcome and Sussex Tech’s high-stepping Raven Nation Marching Band performed several selections, including the National Anthem.

 

Vince Kane, director of the Wilmington VA Medical Center, emphasized this is a community-based effort dedicated to providing quality care.

“The VA has made it very clear: For us to be successful going forward we have to be in the community and with the community. We have to listen to what the community is telling us and what our veterans are telling us and then tailor the services to better meet their needs. There is a reason we call these community-based outpatient clinics,” said Mr. Kane. “Veterans, you have to tell us what is working and what is not working. Your needs are changing. Healthcare is changing. We have to have that communication going back and forth to successfully get you the care you need in a timely way, a high-quality way. If we are missing the caring, we are missing the mission.”

Sen. Carper recalled how care for veterans has progressed over the past five decades.

“This is not just bricks and mortar,” he said. “This is just not technology and all kinds of stuff. This is trying to make sure our veterans get the care, the dignity, love and compassion that they deserve, that they have earned. We can say to our veterans, ‘Thank you for your service,’ but we have put our money – your money – where our mouth is, to make sure that they can feel proud and welcomed and cared for.”

After brushing off feathers from an earlier stop at poultry hatchery in Sussex County, U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester offered thanks to veterans for their service and congratulations to those involved in making the new clinic a reality. Delaware’s first U.S. Congresswoman then turned to Mr. Bolen.

“Most importantly, the person who just like revved me up was you sergeant, Sgt. Bolen. He put it all into words. He told a story,” said Rep. Blunt Rochester. “And you made it so relatable to each and every one of us, not only what you went through as a young person but the fact that you are now up on the stage and will cut a ribbon for this for our community is a beautiful thing. The message you gave was the one that I was going to give, which is: ‘You earned it.’”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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