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For years, thousands of military veterans in this region have fretted over the shortage of facilities for post-service health care. But that may stop soon.

The Denver office that oversees health care services for about 65,000 veterans in eastern Colorado is in the early planning stages of a major expansion of its outpatient medical clinic in Colorado Springs. Details haven't been finalized, but the project likely will involve building a new 80,000-square-foot clinic at an undetermined site, says Jordan Schupbach, spokesman for the Veterans Affairs Eastern Colorado Health Care System.

That would more than double the size of the current clinic, about 36,000 square feet divided between two buildings at 25 N. Spruce St. and 320 E. Fontanero St.

"It's a significant thing we're doing here," Schupbach says.

The current operation handles about 14,000 patients annually, he says, and provides limited services. Veterans have to travel to Denver for basic procedures such as MRIs, and laboratory tests must be sent to Pueblo for analysis.

The new facility will accommodate up to 18,000 veterans, handling the population projected through 2018, Schupbach says. It will have state-of-the-art equipment and offer full medical services, including physicians' offices, a full-service pharmacy, ambulatory care, a radiology department, optometry and dental services, mental health care, a laboratory and more.

"It'll have everything in one place, so if a patient sees a primary care doctor and needs an X-ray, they can just walk to get that done, and then walk to the pharmacy to get a prescription," Schupbach says. "We're really focusing on providing better concentric care. We don't want our Colorado Springs patients to have to drive to Denver any more than they do."

Schupbach says the up-to-$4 million project will be funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and that Colorado Springs was identified for expansion to add capacity to meet the region's increasing veteran population.

U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn says Colorado Springs has needed a larger VA clinic for years, and he supported legislation to secure it.

"Looking down the road, we know that the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will put a strain on our veterans health care clinics. Congress is putting money toward new clinics now to meet those coming needs," says Lamborn, a member of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, in an e-mail to the Indy. "I have made it one of my top priorities to fight for our veterans."

The VA is "actively pursuing the possibility of expanding multiple other clinics," Schupbach says; there are 12 in the state. In addition, the White House is currently seeking $1.15 billion for building additional medical facilities in Colorado, Louisiana, Nebraska and California, and another $468 million for minor improvements to existing VA facilities.

Projections call for the expanded clinic, with 35 additional employees, to open in February 2013, Schupbach says.

And plans for the local market couldn't come any faster for veterans. Willie Murray, a disabled vet, says better medical services would greatly improve his life.

"I don't have a car, so I have to ride the bus to get to Denver for medical procedures, and it's a real pain," he said recently, while at the Colorado Springs clinic. "This will benefit a lot of people. We're very happy about it."


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