At long last, the new VA clinic in Ramsey will open next week. Veterans who toured it were united in their praise.
Hundreds of veterans arrived in the city of Ramsey on Veterans Day and waited -- some for hours -- for the doors of the nation's newest VA clinic to open. But their wait was nothing to complain about -- they were there for a celebration, not treatment.
Some wore the stars and stripes on their caps and jackets Friday. All wore their hearts on their sleeves. And many grizzled veterans wore the enthusiasm of freshly enlisted youngsters.
"They sent me a letter yesterday -- the kind of letter that you actually want to receive from the federal government -- telling me my medical records will be transferred from the VA medical center in St. Cloud to this new clinic on the 15th," said James Young, 60, a Vietnam veteran from Andover.
"Do you know what this means?" asked his brother, Steven Young, 62, of Anoka, also a Vietnam veteran. "It means not having to make the 50-mile drive to St. Cloud in the winter.
"The health care I get from the VA has saved me from poverty," said Steven Young, a laid-off machinist. "But this new clinic means everything."
After a decade of plans, protests and politics, the 20,000-square-foot, community-based outreach clinic will open Tuesday. A standing-room crowd of mostly veterans and their families listened to brief speeches by Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, Ramsey Mayor Bob Ramsey and high-ranking officials from the Minneapolis VA Health Care System. Vintage World War II T-6 Thunder planes flew over after the speeches.
But the state-of-the-art building -- available for the first time for public tours -- was the day's true star.
"Fantastic," said Paul Armstrong, 83, of Anoka, a World War II Coast Guard veteran who travels to the VA medical center in St. Cloud for care.
"Best thing that ever happened to some of these veterans," said his wife, Mary.
The clinic was built for veterans in the northwestern suburbs and is expected to serve vets from Anoka, Sherburne, Wright, Isanti, Mille Lacs and western Hennepin counties. Anoka County alone has nearly 31,000 veterans. Until this clinic was built, they had to go to Minneapolis or St. Cloud for VA care.
Some may continue to do so. Ron Riley, 79, of Maple Grove, a Marine who served during the Korean War, said he likes his doctor in Minneapolis. Harry Sundeen, 63, an Army Vietnam veteran, lives in Ramsey, but plans to remain loyal to his doctor in St. Cloud.
"It's a beautiful building," said Dawn Larson, 69, of Elk River, an Air Force veteran. "It would be so much easier to come here than St. Cloud, but my doctor isn't coming to this building."
But Amy Felton, 39, of Elk River, a veteran of the Navy, was dazzled by the new building and the services offered.
Ronald Fonken, 63, of Ham Lake, spent 22 years in the Air Force. He said he has heart and prostate problems that are treated at the VA medical center in Minneapolis. But not likely for much longer.
"I'm transferring here," he said. "That's a transfer that would make any veteran smile."
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419