Clinic grand opening highlights expanded services for vets

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Central Texas veterans have a new place, and as officials say, the largest place in the country to receive physical and mental health care.

The Austin Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic has been open for business since July, but the new state of the art facility in Southeast Austin will receive it’s grand opening dedication Tuesday afternoon.

“The older facilities lack the emotional and spiritual up lifting that you gain from this facility,” said Gregory Vrentas, administrator of the Austin VA Outpatient Clinic. “Everything is coordinated and it’s just a very uplifting environment to come to.”

He said the 184,00-square-foot building is four times the size of the old clinic with 1,289 parking spaces and 380 staff members.

The old clinic is about about two miles from the new one on 7901 Metropolis Drive. Travis County bought the old building and Travis County Central Health will refurbish it and use it.

The clinic sees about 1,000 veterans a day and about 23,000 a year.

“I don’t have to get on that I-35 and deal with all the traffic it only takes me 15 minutes to get here,” said Larry Clinton, an Army veteran who served in Iraq from 2008 and 2010.

Many vets would have to drive upward 70 miles to Temple or other locations to receive medical treatment.

The Austin VA Clinic has top of the line equipment and services ranging from a 16-slice CT scanner, MRI scans, a mammography suite, gastroenterology services and chemotherapy, mental health, neurological, orthopedic and standard ears, nose and throat procedures. It also has oncology, urology, and surgery units.

Vrentas said they started the project about five years ago once Congress gave them the green light. They have a 20 year lease on the building, which costs about $225 million over the course of the lease, and have the ability to expand in three different ways.

The director said Austin has the fastest growing Veteran population, which is about 6.5 percent. Vrentas said it’s because of the eclectic community Austin offers.

The clinic is gaining a lot of attention nationwide. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, U.S. Rep Lloyd Doggett, U.S. Rep. Bill Flores and other lawmakers are expected to show up to the dedication. Police Chief Art Acevedo is expected to present a proclamation on behalf of Mayor Lee Leffingwell.

“It means a lot and I really appreciate it that they appreciate what we did and they giving back that means to me and I bet it means a lot to the other veterans,” said Clinton, as he waited for his appointment at the clinic.

“I think it’s a clear demonstration to a nation and to our veterans that Congress is totally behind the veteran,” said Vrentas. “This is reification of that it’s a promise that goes back as far as Lincoln to care for those that have borne the battle.”

The director said vets who live within 50 miles of the Austin area should take advantage of the services and enjoy them.