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Facts about the Department of Veterans Affairs (Part 2)

Perhaps the most visible of all VA benefits and services is health care.  From 54 hospitals in 1930, VA’s health care system has grown to include 153 medical centers, with at least one in each state, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. VA operates more than 1,500 sites of care, including 951 ambulatory care and community-based outpatient clinics, 134 nursing homes, 50 residential rehabilitation treatment programs, 232 Veterans Centers and 108 comprehensive home-care programs. VA health care facilities provide a broad spectrum of medical, surgical and rehabilitative care.

Almost 5.75 million people received care in VA health care facilities in 2009; inpatient facilities treated more than 444,000 patients and outpatient clinics registered more than 73 million visits.

VA is the largest single provider of clinical training in the United States, hosting more than 100,000 health trainees annually in disciplines ranging from medicine, dentistry and nursing to a wide variety of other health professions. VA’s educational affiliations are its largest public-private partnership and a cornerstone of American health professions education. Currently, 120 of 153 VA medical centers host physician trainees from 155 medical schools. Additionally, 132 VA facilities have affiliation agreements with some 1,200 other colleges or universities training in more than 40 health professions.

VA’s medical system serves as a backup to the Defense Department during national emergencies and as a federal support organization during major disasters.

VA has experienced unprecedented growth in the medical system workload over the past few years, providing more medical services to more veterans and family members than at any time in its history. The number of patients treated increased by more than 36 percent from 4.2 million in 2001 to nearly 5.75 million in 2009.

To receive VA health care benefits most veterans must enroll. The VA health care system had more than eight million veterans who were enrolled as of October 2009. When they enroll, they are placed in priority groups or categories that help VA manage health services within budgetary constraints and ensure quality care for those enrolled.

Some veterans are not required to enroll (but are encouraged to do so). Veterans who do not have to enroll include those with a service-connected disability of 50 percent or more; those discharged from service for a disability incurred or aggravated in the line of duty, people in the 12-month period following discharge; and those seeking care specifically for their service-connected disability. Veterans with service-connected disabilities receive priority access to hospitalization and outpatient care. Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are eligible for priority care enrollment and care for five years after their military separation.

DAV vans

The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) organization is running a VAHC van from Durango on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call Mike Dunaway, 247-2198, and from the Farmington area on Mondays and Wednesdays, call Harriet Mulnix, (505) 793-1782.

Durango VA Clinic

The Durango VA Outpatient Clinic is located at 1970 E. 3rd Ave. Durango, CO 81301 (the old Mercy Medical Center). Phone number is 247-2214.

Further information

For information on these and other veterans’ benefits, please call or stop by the Archuleta County Veterans Service Office located at the Senior Center in the Pagosa Springs Community Center on Hot Springs Blvd. The office number is 264-4013, the fax number is 264-4014, cell number is 946-6648, and e-mail is The office is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Bring your DD Form 214 (Discharge) for application for VA programs, and for filing in the VSO office.