New facility will serve 12,000 area veterans

When the new Veterans Administration clinic opens in Katy next May, it will bring medical care closer to home for the more than 12,000 war veterans living in the area.

"We are proud of the brave men and women who have fought for our country, [and] we strongly support providing the most comprehensive health services available to these men and women," said Ann Hodge, president and CEO of the Katy Area Chamber of Commerce. "The Katy community is the ideal location for a state of the art VA Clinic to serve these remarkable men and women."

For years, veterans in the Katy area had to fight traffic on I-10 to get to the Texas Medical Center to go to the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center whenever they needed to see their primary care physician or a specialist, said Samuel Luna, a service officer for Katy's Jonathan D. Rozier Post 164 of the American Legion.

The clinic will encompass 30,000 square feet and be located at 750 Westgreen Blvd. inside the Mann Eye Institute building, said Bobbi Gruner, spokeswoman for the Houston VA. The VA signed a long-term contract with the developer for $1 million a year, she said.

Clinic services

The VA-staffed facility will provide primary health care, mental health care, women's specialty care, laboratory, X-ray, telemedicine, teleretinal imaging, pharmacy, optometry and audiology services.

As of 2008, the latest data available from the U.S. Census Bureau, about 91 percent of the veterans living the Katy ISD service area were men, and 38.8 percent served in the Vietnam War.

Of the veterans, 64.6 percent were between 35 and 64 years of age. There were 318 people employed in the Armed Forces in the Katy area in 2011. That number is projected to go up to 437 by 2016, according to data received from the Katy Area Economic Development Council. The number of military personnel increased 189.9 percent from 1990 to 2000. Another 37.5 percent increase is projected to take place between 2011 and 2016.

One of the VA's goals has been to place health care services close to where veterans live, Gruner said.

"When I got to Houston 10 years ago, the VA started forecasting where the population had been growing," she said. "Fast-forward to today, and we have opened seven new outpatient clinics around the area. When we finish in 2013, it will be nine."

The others are located in Beaumont, Conroe, Galveston, Lake Jackson, Lufkin, Richmond, Texas City and Tomball, which will open in July.

The Katy clinic will be staffed according to population, Gruner said. Each doctor is on a team with support staff, nurses and social workers. Each of the teams will be able to handle a certain number of patients, from about 50 to 60. However, if the clinic opens and 10,000 people, for example, come rather than the projected 5,000, the VA will shift the teams, she said.

Meeting the need

Gruner said she expects the clinic to serve 5,000 to 8,000 veterans the first year.

Luna said one key component of the Katy clinic is the telemedicine option, which gives primary care doctors there the opportunity to confer with specialists at DeBakey Hospital.

He expects more veterans to use that option for seeing specialists for follow-up appointments.

"The drive is a hassle, especially for those vets who can't afford it," Luna said. "The new clinic in Katy is going to help all of us to be able to go nearby for services."