Veterans currently either travel for hours or find themselves depending on services from already booked up doctors in the Altus area.
Five outpatient medical clinics are to be built in Vinita, Jay, Enid, Altus and Stillwater, while 15 psychiatric care beds will be set up at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Muskogee.
The projects are scheduled to be completed by 2012, although there's no timetable on which clinic will be built first or last.
Sherilyn Fails, a spokeswoman with the VA Medical Center in Oklahoma City, explained that any demographic study of the area to determine the number of veterans and the services they require won't be done until the go-ahead is given by the Veterans Integrated Service Network, which is based in San Antonio, Texas, and oversees 10 VA centers.
The VISN then looks at all data collected and ranks and prioritizes it to determine, in conjunction with the medical center directors, the nature of the clinic to be established -- either staffed by VA personnel or operated through contracts with local providers.
In cases of contract clinics, Fails said, the VA issues a request for proposal and advertises in all newspapers within a 30-mile radius.
Fails said that the earliest any work could begin to research the area demographics would be Oct. 1, 2005.
Ron Gignac, who retired as a senior master sergeant in 1990 after 31 years in the Air Force, sees the main problem for veterans seeking health care in the area as one of accessibility.
Available facilities, he said, "are not accessible to us without a three-hour drive to get to them."
Gignac was the VFW post commander in 1988-89 and is slated to assume the post of senior vice post commander in July.
A large portion of retirees in Altus are veterans, and most are insured through TRICARE, the Department of Defense's managed health care program for active duty military, active duty service families, retirees and their families, and other beneficiaries.
The program requires vets to choose physicians from a list of providers, who are often overloaded with patients. "A lot of those guys are so full they can't take our people," Gignac said.
So whenever the clinic materializes in Altus, Gignac sees it as a very good thing.
"If we had a VA clinic here, that would be just phenomenal for our people," he said.
Gignac himself is doing fine without the services of a physician. "I have to knock on wood," he quipped. "I haven't been sick a day in my life."
Bill Hutchens, who retired from the Air Force in 1984, said that he had been traveling in his own car to Oklahoma City once a month for services in 1999.
A VA van does take veterans to the state capital, he said, but it has its drawbacks.
For one, it leaves Lawton at 4 a.m. "If you go up there in the van, you've got to wait all day," he said.
Hutchens is looking forward to the day the clinic is a reality.
"I think it'll be great for Altus," he said