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Blumenthal visits VA Clinic

WINSTED — On Thursday, Feb. 23, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D) visited the Veterans Affairs (VA) Outpatient Clinic.

Representatives for Blumenthal said that he is visiting all six VA clinics throughout the state to advocate for an upcoming infrastructure program. Blumenthal walked through the clinic with its nurse manager, Kimberly Phaneuf.

During the visit, Phaneuf provided detailed information about the clinic’s functions and needs.

Phaneuf has worked for the VA for nine years, and oversees veteran clinics in Willimantic, New London and Winsted. 

According to Phaneuf, the VA Outpatient Clinic in Winsted has 2,300 patients and two primary care providers, as well as some part-time staff. Phaneuf showed Blumenthal two small areas where teleconferencing services are set up to help care for some patients. 

The Winsted clinic takes advantage of teleconference services to provide high resolution imaging which is often used for diagnosing dermatological ailments, Phaneuf said. Teleconference services are also used for mental health care, behavioral health care and diabetes patients.

“Probably what we need most here is space,” Phaneuf told Blumenthal after his tour of the clinic. “New London and Willimantic are two of our clinics that are actually growing really fast. Willimantic has a pretty new clinic. They have lots of space and it’s a nice setup, which is actually what we are looking to do.” Blumenthal asked Phaneuf a wide range of questions to “take the pulse and get the picture of what is needed.”

“The aim of my going to veterans clinics is to document the very significant needs of more veterans facilities, not just the main one in West Haven, but the outpatient clinics and facilities that serve veterans literally every day with critical physical and mental health care,” Blumenthal said. “Clearly, this clinic, and other clinics like it, need more space and need better equipment. The picture I take here will go with me to Washington, and I will say to my colleagues, ‘do the same in your state, you take an inventory on what is needed.’ Basic facilities and equipment provide adequate health care to your veterans. We need to keep faith with them and we need to make sure we leave no veteran behind in health care as well as jobs and education and other essential services. Health care is so basic and critical.”

Blumenthal mentioned “The Choice Program,” which guarantees that if a veteran does not have a facility within 40 miles from their home, or if they have to wait longer than 30 days for treatment, they have the choice to go to a private doctor who would later be reimbursed. 

“But if they want to come to a VA facility like this clinic, they should have access to the best possible health care,” Blumenthal said. “They should not be required to drive to West Haven or Newington, and this is a clinic that really deserves to be the best. Most people think of veterans health care in terms of big hospitals, but the clinics perform a vital function, everything from dermatology to cardiology to behavioral health. This clinic serves all those needs, and it is in within close proximity to the veterans themselves.”

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