Steamboat Springs It doesn’t take long to notice the permanent tolls of war at the Grand Junction VA Hospital.
Just beyond the automatic doors, an older man with a prosthetic leg boards an elevator.
In a soundproof chamber further away, another veteran is taking a hearing test to see if the hundreds of hours he spent riding in an airplane in the ’70s could be responsible for a ringing in his ears.
In another wing, doctors are treating veterans suffering from the mental effects of war.
But in every area of the hospital, veterans are helping other veterans using some of the latest technology.
War and its aftermath have caused this hospital to grow rapidly in recent years.
When Customer Relations Chief Paul Sweeney started there in 2007, he said the hospital had about 300 employees.
Today, it has close to 700.
“We had a huge growth in mental health services,” he said.
That department alone had seven providers and administrators in 2008. Now, it has more than 50 staff members and administrators.
About 13,000 veterans in Colorado and Utah depend on this facility, which has a coverage area that spans 17 1/2 counties. But hospital staff estimates there are 7,000 to 10,000 more veterans in this area who are not using the services.
That gap has resulted in renewed outreach, but there are perceptions that are hard to battle.
Take Alex Roxanna, a Vietnam-era Air Force veteran who was at the women’s clinic at the hospital to have her blood pressure checked.
“I really avoided coming in because I felt this place was for people who are injured,” she said.
Today, Roxanna’s glad she finally did.
Sweeney explains that the VA wants to see more healthy veterans, but it can be hard because many don’t even realize they have health benefits, or they think the hospital is reserved for people who are seriously injured.
There also are those veterans in rural areas like Routt County who don’t want to make the drive.
Sweeney said they should if they qualify for medical benefits.
Once veterans get in the VA system, they can visit telehealth centers closer to home for medical treatment.
There also are cost benefits.
The most any veteran with VA health benefits would have to pay for a stay at the hospital in Grand Junction is $1,100 for the duration and $10 per day for food.
“That’s a lot less than other options,” he said.
There are three gateways to getting VA health benefits.
The first is having a disability that is connected to military service.
The second is a low enough threshold of income.
And the third comes from veterans who are part of special programs that range from Purple Heart recipients to Desert Storm veterans.
Sweeney said many veterans don’t realize there are two gateways to the health benefits other than service-connected disabilities.
To learn more about the Grand Junction VA Medical Center, visit www.grandjunction.va.gov. ■