WASHINGTON, Oct. 1, 2010 - The Defense and Veterans Affairs departments took a big step today toward closer collaboration with the dedication of a first-of-its-kind, fully integrated health-care center, in North Chicago, Ill.

The Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center combines manpower and resources from Naval Health Clinic Great Lakes and the North Chicago VA Medical Center, said Jonathan Friedman, the center's public affairs officer.

The new center, he said, will provide care to active-duty servicemembers -- including Navy recruits attending boot camp at Naval Station Great Lakes -- as well as military family members, retirees and veterans.

"Our mission covers both sides," Friedman said. "We have a readiness mission for the military, and a VA mission of serving veterans. It's complete integration."

DOD and VA already link many of their medical services through sharing agreements, but have always retained two separate chains of command and funding sources, Friedman said.

The Lovell Center, named for the retired Navy officer and NASA astronaut, will have a single chain of command. VA's Patrick Sullivan will serve as director, and Navy Capt. David Beardsley isdeputy director. And in accordance with the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act that established it, the center will have one funding source.

"This is something that has never been done before," Friedman said.

Last year, as construction was still ongoing, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki praised the concept of the new center to the West Point Society of Chicago.

"The Lovell Center will stand as the flagship, collaborative standard for intra-service, intra-government cooperation, a health care model for others to emulate, and a new facility to better serve the men and women who have earned the best care we can provide," Shinseki told the group at its Founders Day dinner in March 2009.

Pooling resources and capabilities makes sense, Friedman said, because it will save taxpayer money while providing more robust, convenient patient care and services.

For example, he said, if the Navy clinic offered MRIs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and a separate imaging unit at the VA offered them Tuesdays and Thursdays, then patients gain more options in scheduling their appointments.

"This is one-stop shopping for the patient, with more resources under one roof," Friedman said.

However, the new facility isn't truly under one roof, he said. It's spread between North Chicago and Great Lakes and includes an east and west campus, three community-based outpatient clinics and a newly constructed 210,000-square-foot ambulatory care center.

Lovell, 83, is best known as commander of the Apollo 13 mission that returned to Earth safely after a near-catastrophic equipment failure en route to the Moon in 1970. He was on hand for today's dedication, where a statue was unveiled in his honor.

Juan Garcia, assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower and reserve affairs, represented DOD at the dedication ceremony. Dr. Robert Petzel, VA under secretary for health, was VA's senior official.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16