FW clinic treats ailments specific to veterans

United States Air Force Vietnam war veteran Gary Knutson, of Kent, has come to the Federal Way community based outpatient clinic since it opened. He brings his service dog Lucky.  - Jacinda Howard/The Mirror
United States Air Force Vietnam war veteran Gary Knutson, of Kent, has come to the Federal Way community based outpatient clinic since it opened. He brings his service dog Lucky.
— image credit: Jacinda Howard/The Mirror

King and Pierce counties are bursting with veterans, but there is still room to grow at Federal Way's Veterans Affairs community-based outpatient clinic.

The clinic opened two years ago at 34617 11th Place S., and is one of nine clinics of its kind in Washington state. It offers veterans and their families physical and mental services as well as assistance with claims.

"It's veteran focused; we only serve veterans," said Sonia Mattoon, clinic administrator and Navy veteran.

The clinic has grown its patient base from roughly 800 to 3,350 since it opened, but there is room for more patients, said Chris Foster, VA Puget Sound Health Care System community based outpatient clinic coordinator.

Just for veterans

There are 139,111 documented veterans residing in King County, and 94,446 living in Pierce County, said Ken LeBlond, VA Puget Sound Health Care System spokesman. Veterans do not have to live in Federal Way or King County to attend Federal Way's outpatient clinic.

Some veterans are unaware the clinic exists in their own community, veteran Court Fraley said.

"A lot of guys are used to going to the hospital in Seattle," he said.

Federal Way's outpatient clinic is able to handle most of the basic needs requested by veterans, Mattoon said. Blood work, X-rays, psychologist, psychiatrist and mental health services are offered in addition to general practice care, she said.

Doctors and staff are trained to deal with veteran specific illnesses and conditions, such as post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, LeBlond said. For instance, a veteran may come in complaining of a foot injury. At a private practice, the doctor would not likely inquire as to whether the patient served in the Korean War, Foster said. Early on, vets serving in that war were issued boots that were not equipped to protect their feet from the weather, he said. Federal Way's outpatient clinic staff knows that, Foster said.

Many veterans distrust the government and hesitate to give VA clinics a chance, Vietnam veteran and clinic patient Terry Newby said.

"We came home to a hostile situation and, for the most part, our government abandoned us," he said.

It took Newby time to get comfortable with going to a VA outpatient clinic, he said. But now he considers his doctor the best he's had following his time in Vietnam.

"He's going to take time with me," Newby said. "He understands veterans."

Once veterans give the service a chance, they realize it works and its convenient, Newby said.

"We've gone to great lengths to change the reputation (of VA clinics) after Vietnam," Foster said. "We've really opened our doors to bring veterans in."

Patients without urgent needs are seen within 30 days, Mattoon said. Those with urgent needs are cared for or taken to Seattle or American Lake veterans hospitals, she said.

The clinic only provides medical care, but veterans service organizers are on-site most days to assist patients in making a claim, Mattoon said.

Learn more

For veterans already enrolled in the Veterans Affairs system, call (206) 764-2547 or visit the center at 34617 11th Place S. to transfer care to the Federal Way outpatient clinic or make further inquiries. Call the same number to enroll in VA care.

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