KNAU and Arizona News
2:17 pm
Thu July 8, 2010

Veterans Affairs head tours northern AZ clinic

Flagstaff, AZ – It's early in the morning, but the Camp Navajo Veterans Clinic just outside Flagstaff already has a crowded waiting room. There's a 100-year old man who fought in World War II, and a 23-year old soldier who served in 2007 in Afghanistan, who's leaving soon for another deployment with his National Guard unit.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Ken Shinseki works the room and hands out commemorative gold coins.

Afghanistan Veteran Tyrel Arnell is getting treatment for Tinnitis, ringing in the ears, and goes to a counselor for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He's satisfied with his medical benefits.

Shinseki walks with a slight limp - the result of injuries from his service in Vietnam more than 40 years ago. He understands accessing care can be frustrating, especially after years of government budget cutbacks.

Shinseki came to Camp Navajo at the invitation of Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick is a member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. She wants more veterans in rural and tribal areas to have access to medical care.

Clinic nurse Michelle Frank has worked with veterans for 24 years, nine of those years at Camp Navajo. She told Shinseki and Kirkpatrick the small staff makes a big impact. They see more than two dozen patients each day, many coming in for the first time.

There are 21 VA medical facilities in Arizona. But only three are in northern Arizona. But under the Obama Administration, the V-A's budget has increased 16-percent in the last year. That's the largest increase in spending for vets in more than 30 years.

Shinseki says that's allowing the VA to establish more clinics. Northern Arizona isn't getting a new clinic, but the VA is planning to move the Camp Navajo clinic to a bigger facility in Flagstaff in November, where they'll offer more services and staff.