MISSOULA - It was a big day for Montanans, but especially for Montana veterans as Missoula's new VA clinic officially opened.
Ranging from addiction and substance abuse to physical therapy to hearing and speech, the David J. Thatcher VA Clinic can now see thousands of veterans in Western Montana throughout the year.
What began as a humble clinic on Orange Street, is now a 60,000 square foot facility — and the region’s largest VA clinic. The grand opening ceremonies welcomed tradition, remembrance and a glimpse into the future of veteran care.
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“When a veteran walks into this space, they're gonna say, oh my goodness, they care about me. They care about what my experience is,” noted psychologist Christian Zal-Herwitz. “They care enough to put some money into a place to make it a nice space for me to be. A nice place for me to sit with other veterans and have conversations, a nice place for me to get connected to services, whatever that might be,” Zal-Herwitz continued.
In order for Montana’s veterans to feel and receive that support, the people behind the scenes have to be supported and Zal-Herwitz says even the most basic aspect of this new facility will bolster his team. The clinic is a sunlit space that spans eight acres, with enough staff and resources to support 9,000 veterans through in-house, telehealth, or at home care.
Alongside existing services, the David J. Thatcher Clinic boasts of new offerings like physical therapy, radiology, cardiology, prosthetics, and support for homeless veterans. The services will be comprehensive, and the space collaborative, so physicians can work with dieticians, dieticians can work with therapists, and so on.
"When we're in the same space, we can easily collaborate with each other, and that ease of connecting across professions is going to be a game-changer for how we holistically think about veteran care,” explained Zal-Herwitz.
It's especially important because Montana is home to thousands of veterans -- 2018 data puts that number at 92,000, with nearly 50% being older than 65.
Missoula's new clinic means hundreds of veterans will now be closer to better, crucial care.
“When they see just how many more services are available to them here, and how many more providers are going to be immediately available to them in their care, I think they're really going to experience an increase in what has already been excellent services in Missoula area, so I'm just extremely excited for them,” Zal-Herwitz concluded.
The $9 million David J. Thatcher VA Clinic — which is three times larger than its former location — is located at 3885 West Broadway in Missoula.
U.S. Senator Jon Tester, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, took part in the grand opening.
“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'. This new location will ensure doctors, nurses, and other hard-working 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. Working alongside this community on this victory has been a highlight of my career in public service—we set a goal, we kept at it year after year, and together, we delivered.” - US Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT)
The facility is named after World War II Montana veteran David J. Thatcher who served in the U.S. Army Air Corps and took part in the famed Doolittle Raid against Japanese forces following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Watch a 2012 KPAX video story featuring Thatcher and his remembrances of the Doolittle Raid below.
You can watch a video of Friday's ceremonies below.