Rep. Gluesenkamp Perez renews call to reopen VA clinic in Lewis County


In a call to reopen a community-based outpatient clinic in Lewis County, Third District Congressional District Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Skamania, said she is “gravely concerned” that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs “is not upholding this promise” to more than 3,000 veterans in Lewis County.

On Tuesday, Gluesenkamp Perez delivered a letter and a petition with 16,000 signatures to the department as community members continue to voice frustration over the department’s decision to shutter the Chehalis clinic in 2021.

“Following the closure of the clinic, the veteran community in the area began a nearly two-year petition drive — gathering thousands of signatures to underscore the need for this clinic,” Gluesenkamp Perez wrote in a letter addressed to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough. “Now, I am delivering these signatures to you, and joining them in asking for a clinic to be reopened in the location it is most acutely needed — Lewis County.”

For more than three years, community members have called on the department to reopen a clinic in the county, which the VA closed in part due to high operating costs. It had been located inside the Lewis County Mall.

“Coming in at a $4 million annual price tag, the per-patient expenses under that contract were actually the highest in the entire nation. Beginning in August (2022), our mobile medical unit has been here caring for patients locally,” Puget Sound System Executive Director Dr. Thomas Bundt said in a November 2022 forum.

However, Gluesnenkamp Perez wrote in the letter the eight appointments offered by the clinic “leaves hundreds of veterans unserved and outside of the VA’s own drive time standard who must now resort to the Community Care Network.”

At the November 2022 forum, Mobile Medical Unit Operations Manager Deborah Archer said around 2,000 veterans fell within the standard 30-minute drive time to get to the clinic in Olympia, while another 1,000 had to travel more than 30 minutes.

According to Gluesenkamp Perez, veterans have told her they wait for hours at a time to make appointments, which are often scheduled months in advance. At the forum, Bundt said around 3,400 veterans received care at the clinic before it closed. About 3,000 opted to transfer to the Olympia clinic, which Gluesenkamp said doubles their drive time “in many instances,” while around 400 veterans elected to find care locally.

“By closing the Lewis County Community-Based Outpatient Clinic and replacing it with an inadequate Mobile Medical Unit, the VA Puget Sound Health Care System has put lifesaving care out of reach of many veterans. For these reasons, I urge you to reopen the facility in Lewis County,” wrote Rep. Gluesenkamp Perez in the letter. “In return for their service to our country, we must uphold our promise to ensure veterans have the access to health care necessary to lead a full and healthy life after their time in the armed services has ended.”

In September, Gluesenkamp Perez wrote to McDonough and requested county-level data, information the department was unable to produce.