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Veterans, along with community members, businessmen and women, Alexandria City Council members, Douglas County commissioners and more, attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday morning for the new Alexandria VA Medical Center. Echo Press photo by Celeste Beam

New VA clinic opens its doors

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An estimated 3,500 veterans in Douglas and surrounding counties will no longer have to travel to St. Cloud or other areas for health care services.

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The Alexandria community-based outpatient VA clinic is now open for business.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony took place Monday morning at the new facility, located on 22nd Avenue in Alexandria.

Owen Miller, who is president of the Veterans Council, along with being an Alexandria City Council member, past commander of the American Legion and a veteran, emceed the event.

The hour-long ceremony included remarks from Barry Bahl, St. Cloud VA Medical Center director; Cynthia Breyfogle, VA Midwest Health Care Network action director; Jim Conn, a United States Air Force veteran whose parents owned the land that the new VA Clinic was built on; and Dr. Susan Markstrom, chief of staff at the St. Cloud VA Medical Center. Father Al Ludwig provided the invocation and benediction and the Veterans Council posted and retired the colors.

In addition, there were two legislators on hand, including U.S. Representative Collin Peterson and U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, who addressed the large crowd. An aide from U.S. Senator Al Franken's office was also at the ceremony and read a letter from Franken, who was in Washington, D.C.

Special guests included family members of Max J. Beilke, whom the new Alexandria VA clinic will be named after once the bill passes both the House and Senate allowing the clinic to bear his name.

Beilke, a Vietnam veteran from Alexandria, was the last official American combat soldier to leave Vietnam. A retired master sergeant of the United States Army, Beilke died on September 11, 2001 when a hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon, where he was working as the deputy chief of the Retirement Services Division.

Representative Peterson praised the staff of the new clinic, along with the staff from the St. Cloud VA Clinic, for working hard on this project.

He is hoping to get the bill passed soon that will name the clinic after Beilke, who he called a "true American hero."

"It will be very appropriate to have this clinic named after him," Peterson said. "Thanks for letting me be here today. It's a great day for Alexandria."

Senator Klobuchar, who touted the fact that she was wearing "Vikings purple" and planned on being at the dome Monday night to watch the Vikings take on the Green Bay Packers, said that opening a VA clinic in Alexandria makes it easier for veterans of central Minnesota to receive care.

"Veterans shouldn't have to drive all over to get the medical care they deserve," she said. "I want our veterans taken care of. We need to put our arms around those who served [our country]."

Klobuchar stressed that veterans have to be treated with respect. She told a story of a time she was in an airport when a plane carrying a group of World War II veterans, most of whom were in wheelchairs, had just landed. When the veterans walked through the airport, she said everyone started clapping and cheering for them.

"Veterans need to be treated with respect, but not just by clapping for them, but by honoring them with clinics like this," she said. "Like naming this one after Max."

After the ceremony, Klobuchar spoke with the newspaper and stressed again the importance of having clinics like the new Alexandria VA Clinic for soldiers.

She said, "When they [veterans] signed up for duty, they didn't have to wait in line. They shouldn't have to wait in line at a clinic."

Opening clinics like the one in Alexandria makes it easier for veterans to receive the care they deserve, she added.

VA MEDICAL CENTER FACTS

The counties that will be served at the new Alexandria community-based outpatient VA Medical Center include Douglas, Grant, Pope, Stevens, Todd and Wadena. However, veterans may receive care at the VA facility of their choice, regardless of their place of residence.

An estimated 3,500 veterans are anticipated to enroll at the Alexandria outpatient clinic.

Services offered include primary care for veterans in Central Minnesota; specialty care referrals to the St. Cloud and Minneapolis VA medical centers; mental health services; social work services; clinic pharmacy services; laboratory services; home-based primary care; prescription processing by mail, telephone and Internet; tobacco cessation counseling; and nutrition services. The clinic will be fully accessible for people with disabilities.

CONTACT INFORMATION

The Alexandria VA Clinic is located at 515 22nd Avenue East. For more information or appointments, call (320) 759-2640. If veterans wish to transfer their VA health care to the Alexandria facility, they should call (320) 255-6339.

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