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Yeah, I feel good – but I feel good for our veterans.

Saranac Lake celebrates new VA Clinic

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Veterans from the Tri-Lakes gathered in downtown Saranac Lake Thursday afternoon for the grand opening of a new veterans affairs clinic.

The facility actually opened to patients in July and this week's event was more ceremonial in nature.

As Chris Morris reports, Thursday's occasion was an emotional one - especially for those who spent years making it a reality.

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Chris Morris
Tri-Lakes Correspondent


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It’s a gloomy, overcast day in the Adirondacks and the rain clouds above are threatening to burst at their seams – but the ominous skies do little to dampen the festive atmosphere outside Saranac Lake’s shiny new veterans affairs clinic.

A large crowd of veterans young and old gather across from Saranac Lake’s train depot Thursday afternoon to watch the ribbon cutting for the new clinic – a facility years in the making.

Frank Karl, a veteran and adjutant of the local VFW, spent the better part of three years lobbying officials with the Stratton VA Medical Center in Albany to establish a community-based outpatient clinic in Saranac Lake.

His eyes beam as he looks at the VA clinic – a brand-new addition to the historic Branch and Callanan building.

“Very selfishly, over the years, I saw a lot of things that weren’t done and a lot of our veterans going homeless and without treatment,” Karl said. “It’s just a great feeling to have played a little part in getting this here where we can address more of those people. So yeah, I feel good – but I feel good for our veterans.”

This clinic is important to people like Frank Karl on many levels – but at its core, it’s about caring for the 4,500-plus veterans who live in the greater Saranac Lake area.

For decades, these vets have had to drive at least an hour to receive basic medical care.

Linda Weiss is director of the Stratton VA Medical Center. She notes that 30 percent of the people being served by the new clinic are entering into the veterans care system for the first time.

“Of all the patients we’ve seen here now, we have a whole lot of veterans who have never used there VA services or benefits before,” she said. “So we’re really delighted to be here in the community for them.”

Weiss says the new clinic is providing a wide array of care for veterans – from basic check-ups and on-site physicals to behavioral health and telemedicine networking with specialists in places like Albany and Syracuse.

One of the key players in bringing in the clinic was North Country Congressman Bill Owens – who comes from a family with a storied military background.

“So for us, it’s very important that these kinds of services be provided, because I think that everybody in the audience has had an experience where they’ve had a friend, a neighbor, a loved one, who needed the services of the VA and understand how important that is.”

The VA clinic here is part of a larger push to make Saranac Lake a healing destination for veterans young and old.

That’s why Stratton is partnering with organizations like Homeward Bound – which aims to set up a rehabilitation and reintegration service for vets – and Paul Smith’s College, which continues to look for new and innovative ways to help servicemen and women seek higher education.

But for Frank Karl, the flashy telemedicine features and the new digs at the Saranac Lake clinic can’t replace simply having people who care in the community.

Before the ceremonial ribbon cutting, Karl recounts a moment he experienced recently while sitting in the waiting room at the clinic.

“And this woman was sitting next to me, and all of a sudden, she started to cry,” he said. “So I reach over and tapped her hand and she said it was all right. When it was over and done with, she said, ‘This is the first time in over 20 years I’ve been able to get rid of the nightmares and the stuff I was holding in.’ She said she was so thankful after all this time to come back to life.”

For North Country Public Radio, I’m Chris Morris in Saranac Lake.

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