Mesa veterans clinic helps carry the load - East Valley Tribune: News

Mesa veterans clinic helps carry the load

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Posted: Thursday, July 30, 2009 5:36 pm | Updated: 1:20 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

With the golf cart's engine running this week in front of the Southeast Extension Clinic of the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center, Bill Van Zanten was occupying his time with a popular form of recreation for retirees.

The 69-year-old Vietnam veteran was volunteering.

"You need a ride?" Van Zanten, a former Marine, asks fellow veterans, shuttling them between the parking lot and clinic building at ASU Polytechnic campus.

Many of them do; one elderly veteran using a cane and clutching a bag full of prescription medicines appeared to have used the last bit of his energy to climb into the cart.

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Van Zanten of Mesa said he knew of at least 30 other veterans who spend their retirements giving back.

Eric Guyton, a medical administration officer at the clinic, said retired veterans are their lifeblood.

"They are able to do the things that would be difficult if we had to do them ourselves," Guyton said of the retirees, many of whom live in the East Valley and use the clinic, as well. "We have one volunteer who shuttles patients back and forth to downtown Phoenix every day."

Guyton said the assistance was needed, especially with swelling numbers of Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans returning home in need of vital mental and physical health services. The clinic services more than 1,500 veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan).

"We're one of the largest satellite clinics in the southeast region," Guyton said. "And I foresee the number of veterans returning climbing."

Guyton said the clinic offers new mental and health evaluations to every veteran returning from war fronts.

"Everybody that's coming from the war zone to the East Valley receives a total evaluation," he said, adding that counseling services are also extended to the families of veterans.

The clinic has bolstered the medical staff with three new physicians and nurses in the last year, increasing the total number of medical experts to 11, he said.

That increase was crucial as the clinic grips with the roughly 14,000 veterans it already serves, many of whom are advanced in age and fought in Vietnam, the Korean war and World War II.

"We're getting a large influx of the older veterans now, as well," Guyton said, attributing a seasonal increase to "a lot of the snowbirds who arrive here in the winter time and seek medical services."

VA spokeswoman Paula Pedene said the southeast clinic played a vital role in relieving the main facility in downtown Phoenix.

She said the facility helps relieve the more than 67,000 veterans served at her facility in downtown Phoenix, where there are more than 129 inpatient beds, 104 nursing home patient beds and 48 beds for mental health patients.

Guyton said the southeast extension clinic not only bolstered its medical staff size, the clinic also has the criteria of seeing patients within one week of calling for an appointment.

The clinic has existed for 14 years on the campus of ASU Polytechnic, but it recently had an address change, although they are still in the same building.

Parked outside of the clinic, retired veteran Bill Queale of Chandler said he volunteered for the camaraderie.

"I love listening to the stories from the old veterans," said the 61-year-old Vietnam veteran and former Marine.

Van Zanten, a member of a local chapter of the Marine Corps League, said he enjoyed the sea tales, too.

"Today, I met a submariner from World War II, and during the short ride he told me about a few of his harrowing experiences," Van Zanten said Tuesday. "I had lots of close calls myself."

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