Many military veterans who served in foreign wars during the past five decades still carry invisible scars that can be addressed through mental health services being offered at a new Veterans Administration clinic in Edinburgh.

That information was shared during a town hall meeting for veterans Wednesday at Columbus City Hall organized by the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis, which has launched the Wakeman VA Medical Center at Camp Atterbury.

“We need to do something because we lose 22 veterans every day from suicide,” said William “Buzz” Weberding, Veteran of Foreign Wars state commander.

As part of the event, special pins and plaques were distributed to those who served in Southeast Asia as part of the ongoing 50-year commemoration of the Vietnam War.

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Most of the veterans who attended the town hall meeting were males who were part of the U.S. military during that era. Some came home with disabilities or health problems that were not diagnosed for years or decades.

“We all know it’s late,” said Peter Scovill, a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman who served in Vietnam as a Marine Corps officer. “But I think this is a good way for us all to gather together and say ‘Things are better now.'”

Iraq War veteran Russell Dean said the new medical facility near Edinburgh will also serve his needs.

“Since I live near Westport, this is going to make it a lot easier for me,” Dean said.  “Otherwise, I’d have to continue going to Scottsburg or Louisville.”

“It’s long overdue,” said John Foster, an Air Force veteran and local recipient of the Patriot Award who was one of about 150 in attendance. “Frankly, with the steep military tradition of this area, this clinic makes a lot of sense.”

Services available

The main purpose of the meeting was to provide a meet-and-greet opportunity between south central Indiana veterans and the Roudebush staff, center director Dr. Ginny L. Creasman said.

Beside medical and mental health personnel, VA representatives were available Wednesday to explain educational, housing and occupational benefits. 

Creasman emphasized that veterans enrolled at Wakeman who suffer a life-threatening condition such as a stroke or heart attack go to the nearest emergency room to receive care.  

One veteran said that after he tried to make an appointment following the clinic’s opening last month, he was told he might have to wait until July to be seen.

Creasman apologized for that.

“We’re still working out the bugs as we keep growing,” said the center director, who assured the audience the wait time has now been reduced to four weeks.

Since the clinic has been open for less than two months, Columbus resident and Vietnam War veteran Jim Norris said early glitches should be expected.

“There’s a huge backlog now with new veterans coming into the system,” Norris said. “It just takes time to get things going smoothly.”   

In addressing another concern, Creasman strongly encouraged Wakeman patients to phone the clinic before coming in.

Although enrolled walk-ins will not be turned away, they may have to wait a lengthy period before a caregiver is available to see them, she said.     

While the current enrollment at Wakeman only allows for one full-time primary care physician, more will be added later to keep the ratio at about one physician per 1,000 to 1,200 patients, Creasman said.

Besides primary medical care, the blend of services now available at Wakeman include physical therapy, a mental health care center and technology-supported, long-distance clinical health care.

In addition, several lab tests can be conducted with overnight results at the Atterbury facility, a Roudebush physician said.   

During the next few years, the 12,000-square-foot clinic is expected to expand services to include optometry, ophthalmology, audiology and general X-rays, Scovill said.

When veterans were asked Wednesday what additional services they want, responses ranged from foot, ear and eye care to specialized treatments for diabetes and pain management.  

Those in attendance were assured that if they transfer their treatment to the Atterbury facility, they will not surrender receiving specialized procedures at Roudebush.

In terms of eligibility, those in attendance were told that current funding only allows for treatment of the veteran — not a spouse or child. 

However, family members can attend group therapy sessions, Creasman said.

Income eligibility will depend upon a variety of circumstances that are different for each person, she said.   

The VA has set eight priority groups in making its eligibility determinations, with the lowest being those with a net annual income exceeding $55,000 or who are part of a family with a net value in excess of $80,000.

However, since personal incomes and eligibility requirements change, even those who have been turned down earlier are encouraged to occasionally reapply, Scovill said.

Statewide help

The town hall meeting came just one day after Gov. Mike Pence signed more than a dozen bills that he said will expand benefits and opportunities for Indiana’s military service members and veterans.

One measure expands the Military Family Relief Fund, which is intended to help post-9/11 veterans pay food, housing, utility, transportation and medical bills.

Others expand Medicaid to active-duty National Guard members and property tax deductions for disabled vets.

Wakeman overview

Wakeman VA Clinic at Camp Atterbury

Current Services:  Primary care, mental health, physical therapy and telemedicine. Additional specialty services will be added as the clinic grows and develops.   

Address: 3791 10th St., Building 1010, Edinburgh 

Telephone: On weekdays, call 1-317-988-2300 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.  After hours, call 1-317-899-1772.

What's next?

A dedication ceremony for the Wakeman VA Health Clinic will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday. The ceremony, which will be attended by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, is open to the public.

The clinic is actually located in two neighboring buildings at Camp Atterbury near Edinburgh:

  • Building 1010, located at 3791 10th St.
  • Building 1012, located at 3783 10th St.
Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.