Kokomo is getting its own Veterans Affairs clinic.
Howard County Commissioner Paul Wyman said the VA outpatient facility is set to be housed inside the current city-county clinic at 620 N. Bell St. and will be open two days a week to see area veterans.
The clinic is a first-of-its-kind pilot program established by the VA Northern Indiana Health Care System, which also oversees the Peru outpatient clinic.
Wyman said a VA doctor is now set to be on site in Kokomo on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when the clinic will serve exclusively as an outpatient clinic for veterans. The clinic is closed on those days to city and county workers, who can visit another city-county clinic on South Reed Road.
Veterans will be scheduled to see the doctor at the Kokomo facility by calling the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System’s call center at 1-800-360-8387 ext. 2 where medical staff will determine which VA facility is the best fit to treat each veteran’s health issues.
Wyman said the facility is not a walk-in clinic and appointments must be scheduled. The facility is set for a soft opening next week or in early March, when the VA will begin testing the waters to determine how exactly the program will operate.
“It’s going to start out slow,” Wyman said. “There’s not going to be a big push starting next Tuesday to load it up as quickly as possible. … Please give some patience and latitude and leeway to the people who are getting this clinic up and running.
"It’s a pilot program, so there are new procedures and things they have to get working properly.”
Wyman made the announcement about the clinic during a meeting of the Howard County Military Foundation, which has worked closely with city, county and state officials for about a year to bring the VA pilot program to Kokomo.
The project was first spearheaded by retired Maj. Gen. David Harris, who had pushed VA officials to create the clinic before his unexpected death on Aug. 2. The Military Foundation has since created a scholarship fund in his honor.
Wyman said putting the VA facility inside the city-county clinic is a perfect fit, since the area is already setup as a full-blown clinic.
Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight said in a statement that the city is “proud to offer those resources as part of our ongoing efforts to improve the health of those who served our country.”
However, he said, the announcement about the clinic was premature since there are “many hurdles to cross” for the facility, which will be housed inside a building owned and operated by the city.
"City of Kokomo Director of Human Resources Kathy Horton has worked with the VA for months on this new initiative to serve Kokomo veterans,” Goodnight said. “ … Kathy and our team will continue to work with the VA on finalizing this pilot program as it progresses toward a more formal and official announcement.”
Wyman said the VA will announce more concrete details on the services the clinic will provide and how the program will run in the next 30 to 45 days once officials determine how best to operate the facility.
But regardless of what the clinic offers, the end goal will stay the same, he said.
“If it’s something they can take care of here locally instead of waiting for three weeks to get in at the Peru clinic, they’re going to take care of them here,” Wyman said. “That’s the beauty of it.”
VA officials initially projected in 2017 it could take three to five years for a VA facility to come to Kokomo. Wyman said the fact that it will soon be up and running in less than a year since it was first proposed is a testament to all the organizations and people who worked to make it a reality.
“This project moved along at what I would consider lightning speed, and it took a lot of people for us to get here,” he said. “There’s no doubt, considering our veterans population in Howard County, that we deserve this. This is just another way that we are able to take care of veterans.”
He said if the pilot program is a success in Kokomo, the VA would consider expanding it to other cities around the state.