Missoulian: Sen. Tester says new Veterans Affairs clinic will be built in Missoula

by David Erickson

A new Veterans Affairs clinic will be built on a vacant plot of land on West Broadway in Missoula, according to the office of U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.

Tester’s staff sent a press release Tuesday announcing a location had been chosen for a new Community Based Outpatient Clinic for veterans. It will serve more than 47,000 veterans in the area and will have expanded primary care, mental health care and specialty services.

With 52,557 square feet of net usable space, the new clinic will be 150% larger than the current clinic on Palmer Street in Missoula. It is expected to be open in the spring of 2022.

“This new clinic is welcome news for Missoula’s veterans, who will now have access to cutting-edge care in a state-of-the-art new facility that’ll fit a diverse set of needs,” said Tester, the ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, in a statement. “For too long, veterans in western Montana had to make do with an undersized clinic and overworked staff, but no more. This facility will provide the high quality health care folks who served this country in uniform earned and deserve.”

Tester said the new building will be energy efficient and will be built on vacant land on the corner of West Broadway and Mary Jane Boulevard. The location is about a mile west of Reserve Street on the south side of West Broadway. Officials from both the City of Missoula and Missoula County are hoping a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation will help pay for a planned extension of Mary Jane Boulevard all the way to Broadway.

Jon Wilkins, a former Missoula City Council member and a U.S Army veteran who served in Germany, Vietnam and Korea, applauded the news.

“I do think the current location is in need of expansion, no doubt about that,” he said. “The biggest thing that needs to expand is more VA doctors. You call up to get an appointment, and it’s 30 days. With a regular doctor they see you in two or three days.”

Wilkins said the system for caring for veterans in Montana “needs a lot of improvement.”

“It takes so long for them to decide anything,” he said. “I’ve had a claim in for over seven months, and they haven’t decided on it yet. And that’s been constant through the years.”

In 2017, Tester and a bipartisan group of senators crafted the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act, which was passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate with support from U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and signed by President Donald Trump. The bill also set aside $6.94 million in federal funding to build the new clinic in Missoula and hire more staff.

Tester’s office has said there are roughly 100,000 veterans in Montana.

Kelly Ackerman, the division administrator for Montana Veterans Affairs, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.