Posted on Nov 16, 2022
In honor of Veterans Day, Mr. Paul Roberts, Medical Center Director, Cheyenne Veterans Administration Medical Center, brought us up to date on Veterans Administration (VA) activities, especially with respect to medical facilities and services, in northern Colorado and southern Wyoming.  He first complimented the club on the number of veterans in the audience and commented that he hoped to learn something from this interaction with those veterans to take back to his job. 
Mr. Roberts structured his presentation around highlighting the strengths and opportunities currently available to the VA in our area and contrasting those with expected approaches to addressing some of the weaknesses and threats to the VA in the area.  This allowed him to talk about what the current and future state of the VA is, to include what the Cheyenne VA Health Care System has done to support the growing market in and around Northern Colorado. 
The first strength that he talked about was the Veterans themselves: that there is only one day between being on active duty and being a Veteran, but there is little or no change in the goals and needs of the individual.  He said that he joined the VA to support the Veterans and their families, partly with the thought that treating Veterans well will help convince new service members to stay in the service. 
A second strength is the current level of funding of the VA.  He started by admitting that ten years ago, the VA was missing the mission partly because of too much administration.  The glaring example was the scheduling fiasco at the Phoenix VA.  In the intervening ten years, funding for the Cheyenne VAHCS has grown from a budget of approximately $105 million, including some $20 million to pay for health care, to a current budget of approximately $245 million including some $61 million for health care in the community.  Over the same time span, the number of Veterans enrolled to receive care from the VA has grown from 9000 to 11,000 in Cheyenne and from 10,000 to 20,000 in Northern Colorado.  With that growth in “Veterans”, the staff has grown from 638 to more than 11,000. The increase in staffing is not not only front desk help, but also a diversity of nursing and physician skill sets. He expects to continue building both capabilities and enrollment. 
Two “Post-COVID” weaknesses that he identified were complacency in the work force and too much emphasis on virtual service.  In the area of complacency, he specifically talked about a weak work ethic.  As for virtual service, although it was extremely useful during the worst of the COVID crisis, it cannot replace the value of human, face-to-face interaction in many settings.  The increase in staffing and the reduction in COVID-era restrictions is allowing a return to more of the face-to-face delivery of service. 
He spent some time talking about the facilities available across his service area, which includes parts of Nebraska and Southeast Wyoming, with Northern Colorado being the area with the densest concentration of Veterans and one of the facilities to provide those services.  In Cheyenne, they have some 30 new nursing beds and a new Emergency Room.  In our area, in addition to the new Northern Colorado VA Outpatient Clinic (NoCo) (which they expect to be able to maintain for at least 10 years), they have extended the lives of the older clinics in both Fort Collins and Loveland by some three years. 
After Mr. Roberts concluded his remarks, Shannon Newell, the Assistant Director of the new clinic in Loveland (at 4575 Byrd Street, on the east side of the airport in Loveland), spent time talking about the specific features of that clinic.  Overall, they are trying to replicate the services currently available at the Cheyenne Medical Center.  She expects that the Veteran population of our area will continue to increase, and they are trying to stay ahead of that curve by adding and increasing services.  Most of the services designed to be available in the new NoCo clinic are already in hand, lacking only podiatry which should be in place soon after the first of the year.  They currently have 16 patient-care teams in place, including four to be in the newly revived Fort Collins clinic.  These patient care teams include both primary and mental health care.  Note that the NoCo clinic includes a dental clinic (open five days per week) with three dentists and dental assistants and will be adding dental hygienists in the near future.  It also includes a radiology facility, including CT scanning and ultrasound, with the first radiologist on staff.  They have plans to add an MRI in the future.  They are also growing their mental health footprint. She expects the newly-revived Fort Collins clinic to become a center for patient care, including pain management.  They are developing plans for an ambulatory surgery center near the Denver market.  All of this development is continuing with the expectation that they will ultimately be able to develop partnerships with the VA facility in Eastern Colorado, perhaps sharing surgeons and other specialists.  This whole operation, currently with approximately 350 staff members, is currently assisting more than 800 veterans with the expectation that this number will double in the future.  They welcome input from Veterans in the area and are looking for volunteers to help with the Veterans on site.  Finally, they are looking for a provider for a coffee/canteen shop for the clinic.  Their expectation is that the entire NoCo operation is small enough that they have the opportunity to move fast on capital projects. 
What about the duplication of services between clinics vs. providing transport to the services?  Shannon said that they are approaching full for most, if not all, services at each clinic.  There is a bus stop near the new Loveland clinic so public transport is available for that clinic. 
What about staff for complimentary services (e.g., yoga, meditation, etc.) for PTSD?  They are “100%” into whole health services, giving wellness a lot of attention, but it is sometimes difficult to get traditional providers to buy into services like that.  Mr. Roberts commented on the recent acquisition of “amazing” massage chairs. 
What about mental health care for vets?  The new clinic has two corridors for mental-health professionals.  Home-based primary care, including mental health professionals, is expanding in northern Colorado.  This includes pulling in vets as peer support for mental health and justice support issues. 
What about help for female vets?  The new Loveland clinic will have a women’s clinic.  This is a direct result of what is currently happening on active duty.