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New VA Clinic Opens In North County

— The Veterans Administration has opened a new, multi-million dollar medical clinic in San Diego’s North County.

The new $40 million building is two stories of gleaming glass and steel in Oceanside. It’s not far from the gates of Camp Pendleton.

Tom Alcarez, a 63-year-old Vietnam Vet, arrived on crutches, driven from his home a few miles away. He said he used to go to the VA clinic in Vista which closed last week. But he said the new clinic has more services than the Vista clinic, which means he won’t have to go down to the VA hospital in La Jolla for dental care and psychiatric sessions.

Alcarez said the Veterans Administration is doing a better job of caring for vets now than they did when he came home from Vietnam.

“This is great because, hey, they’re reaching out and trying to get the help to the younger guys,” he said. “Older guys like me appreciate it because we’ve been through it, and we don’t want the younger guys to go through the same thing.”

Karen McKinsey, the Clinical Service Director, said VA clinics in Vista and Escondido have been handling more than 54,000 outpatient visits a year. When it’s fully operational, the new clinic will handle up to 100,000 outpatient visits annually. Each patient usually makes several visits a year.

“With the number of combat casualties coming back, and with the economy, a lot more beneficiaries actually want our services,” she said, “and if you look at the work load, the VA workload, especially San Diego, every year it’s gotten larger and larger.”

More than 22,000 veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have enrolled with the VA in San Diego. The main VA hospital in La Jolla has little room to grow.

The new North County VA clinic will have about 90 employees, who handle both physical and mental health services.

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