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New Dover clinic will bring VA health care options closer for Kent County veterans

Emily Lytle
Dover Post

For many veterans in Kent County, accessing health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs often meant traveling at least an hour north to the Wilmington VA Medical Center in Elsmere.

Transportation – which is often organized by service organizations like the American Legion – was even more limited during the coronavirus pandemic.

But this Veterans Day, the Wilmington VA Medical Center and state officials celebrated a new 29,000-square-foot outpatient clinic in Dover that is poised to break down those barriers.

Jermaine Best, chief engineer for the Wilmington VA Medical Center, shows the shared workspace that connects to private exam rooms.

Vince Kane, director of the Wilmington VA Medical Center, said there is no better way to show support for veterans than making it easier for them to access “exceptional” healthcare.

“As we go forward as a community, [we are ensuring] that veterans get access to exceptional healthcare closest to their home, so that we demonstrate to them – as a community, as Delawareans – our respect, our regard and our appreciation for them,” Kane said. 

Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons, as well as Gen. Frank Vavala, former Adjutant General of Delaware, joined the celebration in a tour of the $4.5 million project that transformed part of the old Blue Hen Mall into what’s now the Kent County Community-Based Outpatient Clinic.

Sen. Tom Carper talks about his experience as a veteran and how much VA medical services have improved and expanded over the years while at the new Dover clinic Nov. 11.

As a Navy veteran, Carper said he visited the VA Medical Center in Elsmere when he was studying at the University of Delaware. At the time, he said both morale and quality of care were low.

Now, he said the medical services have expanded and evolved significantly over the years, and this latest clinic proves it.

“The kind of care that folks will get here, it would’ve put the old hospital to shame all those years ago,” Carper said. “Today we can be proud of this. We can be proud of our veterans and grateful for their service to make sure we have democracy, and we have the right to choose our leaders and to be proud of the country that we’ve been and continue to be.”

Representatives from the Wilmington VA Medical Center hosted a tour of the new Dover outpatient clinic Nov. 11. Here, state officials and veterans visit an eyecare exam room.

When the new clinic opens in early 2021, the new clinic will replace the older one on Governors Avenue, south of Bayhealth Hospital. It is more than triple the size, and it will provide a variety of services that the other clinic did not, including physical therapy, eye care, audiology and women’s health.

Over the past several years, the VA Medical Center has been shifting its focus on providing more services for female veterans statewide, said Jermaine Best, chief engineer for the Wilmington VA Medical Center.

When honoring veterans, many have said that women too often get left out of the conversation.

FEMALE VETS:For Delaware female vets, every day is a struggle

When Best finished the tour of the clinic at one of the three women’s health exam rooms, retired Master Sgt. Tammy Hull spoke about her experience first visiting the Wilmington VA Medical Center more than a dozen years ago.

“I felt disowned," she said. "I felt like I didn’t belong here."

Since then, she said, she has seen that environment change tremendously.

Kane highlighted that the clinic is meant to be a one-stop shop and will have a greater focus on mental health, integrating those providers with primary care physicians.

Any veteran, no matter where they are enrolled, can access the clinic in Dover, and Kane said they expect to see as many as 5,000 patients.

Vince Kane, director of the Wilmington VA Medical Center, introduces the new Kent County Community-Based Outpatient Clinic in Dover Nov. 11.

Looking ahead, many people said they were hopeful that next year would be pandemic-free. Coons agreed, adding that this is a time to focus on veterans services.

"We have an obligation to recognize that this means not just access, not just quality, but volume of services have to be increased," Coons said. "On the other side of this pandemic, there will be a transformed veterans administration and transformed services for veterans."