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Angela Allen, a rural health social worker from Canandaigua, gives a tour to Vietnam veteran dave Rose of Hamlin, N.Y., during an open house for a VA Telehealth Unit outside of the Brockport Area Veterans Club on Wednesday. / Lauren Petracca, Rochester (N.J.) Democrat and Chronicle

ROCHESTER, N.Y. - Veterans living in certain rural areas in New York don't have to drive long distances to local Veteran's Affairs medical centers anymore - the medicine is driving to them.

Physical therapy, blood work and counseling are coming to veterans in western New York in the form of a VA Telehealth Mobile Unit, a medically equipped RV, by next month. VA personnel held an open house in the RV on Wednesday at the Brockport Area Veteran's Club, which will act as the RV's permanent Monroe County destination.

Many veterans who live in rural areas or suburbs find it's difficult to get to the Brighton and Canandaigua VA facilities in the Rochester region, according to Roy McCloud, steward of the Brockport club.

"Instead of a 40-mile drive, it's now a six-block drive," said McCloud, who lives in Brockport near the veteran's club

While the VA employs multiple mobile centers around the country, Canandaigua's RV is one of only two units offering multiple medical procedures onboard, said Libby Louer-Thompson, behavioral health operations manager at Canandaigua VA. The only other similar VA Mobile Unit is in Cheyenne, Wyo.

"Of the other VA units we've come across, some are used primarily for outreach, enrollment, or immunizations," Louer-Thompson said. "Ours is a full-service unit providing all the appointments right there on the RV."

While veterans will still have to go to either of the larger VA centers for more complicated medical procedures, the mobile unit will substitute a doctor's office for routine appointments or tests, said Angela Allen, VA rural health social worker.

"We assessed rural health care needs and asked, 'What are the barriers?'" Allen said. "Some (veterans) are several hours from a central VA hospital. This opens the door up for them to be able to get the help they're eligible for."

The new unit has three rooms in it - one exam room for physical therapy, audiology and primary care, one lab area for blood work, and one computer area for behavioral health video conferences with doctors at local VA centers.

The VA has been in the news recently for long wait times and negligent appointment records at centers around the country. The Democrat and Chronicle reported in June that the Canandaigua VA Center's wait time for an appointment was 37 days, which is twice as long as the recommended VA wait time of 14 days.

While this program will help service more veterans' medical needs, it has been in development for two years and was not developed in response to the wait time situation at VA centers, Louer-Thompson said.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: VA mobile unit to bring health services to rural areas

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