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The David J. Thatcher VA Clinic in Missoula, Montana, is shown in an undated photo. The clinic is named after World War II veteran David J. Thatcher, a longtime Montana resident who participated in the famous Doolittle Raid over Tokyo during World War II.

The David J. Thatcher VA Clinic in Missoula, Montana, is shown in an undated photo. The clinic is named after World War II veteran David J. Thatcher, a longtime Montana resident who participated in the famous Doolittle Raid over Tokyo during World War II. (Facebook)

(Tribune News Service) — David J. Thatcher, a longtime Missoula, Montana, resident who participated in the famous Doolittle Raid over Tokyo during World War II, would be proud of his new namesake.

He died in 2016 at the age of 96, but on Friday, more than 200 people gathered to dedicate the new David J. Thatcher Veterans Affairs Clinic in Missoula, which will serve over 5,000 military veterans in the region.

The new 56,727-square-foot community-based outpatient clinic cost $31 million and is three times the size of the old cramped VA clinic. It will be able to accommodate up to 9,000 patients in future years. It's expected to create over 110 full-time jobs.

Now, veterans can get a full spectrum of services, including physical therapy, radiology, substance abuse counseling and outpatient mental health services in a one-stop shop rather than having to make appointments with and travel to other providers.

"We are actually expanding the amount of veterans that we can see because we now have offices to support new staff, which is exciting," said Paul Harman, the associate chief of staff of mental health. "We have a full range of mental health services here and we have housing programs here. We work with folks who are needing housing or things like that."

Other services that are now located under one roof include disability benefits, sleep therapy, a pharmacy, a dietitian, primary care and social workers. The new clinic's staff is specially trained to care for women, because that's the fastest-growing part of their clientele. And they offer free transportation to and from the clinic for any veteran who needs it, along with a full range of telehealth services when a client needs to see a specialist who doesn't have an office in the clinic.

The clinic opens to clients on Tuesday, Feb. 1. The grand-opening celebration featured a full honor guard, a Native American drum circle and a speech by Thatcher's son-in-law.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, the chairman of the U.S. Senate's Veterans' Affairs Committee, was present for the ribbon-cutting.

"For far too long, veterans in western Montana had to make do with an undersized clinic that made it hard for VA's dedicated staff to deliver quality care, but after today, I'm proud to finally say 'no more,'" Tester said. "This new location will ensure doctors, nurses, and other hardworking medical staff have the additional space to do their jobs and provide state-of-the-art VA health care to thousands of veterans in the area."

Representatives for U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale read letters on their behalf to hail the new facility.

Montana has one of the highest per-capita military veteran populations in the United States, about 9.4% as of 2017. There were 96,369 total veterans in Montana that year, with 73,000 eligible for VA health services and only 47,000 of those enrolled with the VA health care system.

Dr. Judy Hayman, executive director of the Montana VA health care system, said it was an incredible accomplishment to get the building done and staffed up during a pandemic.

"Numerous Montana families have had to celebrate the past holiday season with the heaviness of the loss of their loved ones," she said. "We have all overcome so many challenges to get to today. But today is such a wonderful occasion and marks a day of triumph and celebration."

Tony Incashola, a Vietnam veteran and a tribal elder for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, said a prayer to close the ceremony.

"This country owes so much to those veterans, those people who gave their lives for the hopes and dreams of our children and our grandchildren," he said.

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(c)2022 Ravalli Republic, Hamilton, Mont.

Visit Ravalli Republic, Hamilton, Mont. at http://www.ravallinews.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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