Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs celebrated the grand opening of new outpatient clinic in Bend. It gives Central Oregon veterans access to wide range of medical services, some of which veterans used to drive all the way to Portland for.
This new clinic is more than twice the size of a previous VA facility in Bend. Now, the VA has room for a number of soundproof booths to conduct hearing tests.
Hearing loss and tinnitus - that's ringing in the ears - are the top two service-connected disabilities among veterans, says Dr. Sara Ruth O'Dell, chief of Audiology and Speech Pathology for the Portland VA.
She says hearing loss can be expected as people age. But she says veterans, particularly those who have served in combat, are more prone to hearing problems brought on by exposure to gunfire, artillery or even roadside bombs.
"It's difficult in combat situations to wear earplugs," O'Dell says. "You know, you need to hear as much as you can hear and anything that is loud and an impact noise is going to cause damage to the ear."
Besides audiology, the clinic is offering in-house physical therapy for the first time. It's also expanding existing services such as eye care, podiatry and counselling for post-traumatic stress.
John Shea, the clinic's operations manager, says offering these services closer to home will not only cut down on travel time and expenses for vets here, but he thinks it will also cause more vets to seek care who otherwise wouldn't.
"Just to rehab your arm or to rehab a leg they originally had to go to Portland," Shea says. "Well, of course a lot of them didn't, 'cause it's a long way to go to do rehab. Well, now they can come here and get it."
Last year, the Bend clinic saw twice as many patients as it did in the year 2000. Three other VA clinics, in Salem, East Portland and Vancouver are also expected to undergo major expansions in the next three years.
This story originally appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting.