By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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“This is really a great day,” Murray said before high-fiving World War II veteran Tom McKeown of Port Angeles.
Murray was instrumental in securing funds to expand the North Olympic Peninsula Clinic, Veterans Affairs officials said during a half-hour ceremony in a crowded lobby of the new facility at 1114 Georgiana St.
The new VA clinic will triple the primary care and mental health services available to the Peninsula's 14,000 veterans, officials said.
“This clinic is going to serve as a reminder to everyone here that veterans on the Peninsula are not forgotten,” Murray said.
Murray, the fourth-ranking Senate Democrat, also attended private meetings with officials from Peninsula College and Olympic Medical Center while she was in town.
The fourth-term senator from Whidbey Island told a crowd of about 80 at the VA clinic that caring for veterans is “a commitment that lasts a lifetime.”
“As many of you know, I'm the daughter of a World War II veteran, and I know firsthand what kind of challenges servicemen and -women face when they come home,” Murray said.
“And I remember how difficult it was sometimes for my dad and how that impacted my entire family. Wounds of war are just as often mental as they are physical.”
The 7,800-square-foot new clinic replaces the 1,400-square-foot space that the VA had rented from OMC for $1 per year since it opened in August 2007.
OMC Commissioner Jim Leskinovitch, who introduced Murray, recalled a nonpartisan grass-roots campaign in 2005 to open a clinic for an underserved population.
“I remember it like it was yesterday, Jim,” Murray said.
“People, one after another, stood up and told me how difficult it was for veterans here on the Peninsula, men and women who sometimes felt like they had been forgotten out here to get the care that they needed.”
Murray continued: “The fact of the matter was that facilities just like this one did not exist here, and it wasn't easy for veterans to travel to Seattle or to Bremerton to get the care they needed, and we shouldn't be asking them to do that.”
The community coalesced and “made a lot of noise” to open the smaller facility at 1005 Georgiana St., Murray said.
“And, of course, here we are today, able to cut the ribbon on the finest facility that our veterans deserve,” she added.
“Look around you. This is the kind of commitment that we make to veterans when we tell you we'll be there when you come home.”
VA spokesman Chad Hutson has said the new clinic will house 20 staff members, including two doctors, two nurse practitioners, three nurses, three health technicians and a mental health provider.
The VA is renting the two-story space for about $157,000 per year.
The old clinic, which closed Friday, had one doctor and 13 on staff.
Hutson said the expansion will enable the VA to serve about 2,500 veterans from Clallam and Jefferson counties, up from about 1,600 now.
Murray, 63, was first elected to the Senate in 1992 by campaigning as a “mom in tennis shoes.”
She is a former chairwoman of the Senate veterans affairs committee and now serves as conference secretary and budget committee chairwoman. She recently announced plans to seek a fifth six-year term in 2016.
Murray thanked the VA officials, local community leaders, tribal leaders, veterans advocates, OMC and others who made the expansion possible.
She also recognized former U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks for “fighting for folks out here on the Peninsula, and veterans in particular.”
“As a community, we are not going to forget the men and women who served this country and made our freedom possible,” Murray said.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at email@example.com.