FORT RUCKER, Ala. (November 27, 2013) -- Last year, around $321,000 was spent on off-post physical therapy care for Soldiers and Family members, but patients can now find that care on post after Lyster Army Health Clinic opened its brand-new physical therapy and chiropractic clinics Nov. 20.

The new clinics took 395 days to complete and the construction doubled the size of the facility while modernizing capabilities and combining complimentary modalities, but that is not the best thing about the clinics according to Col. James A. Laterza, U.S. Army Aeromedical Center and Lyster Army Health Clinic commander.

"Muscular-skeletal injuries are the highest disabling cost in the Army," he said. "We can now increase patient convenience because they will not have to go off post and we will be able to return Soldiers to training quicker."

The clinic may also be able to see veterans if a partnership is created between LAHC and Veterans Affairs.

"We hope to eventually team up with the VA to be able to do some of their physical therapy care, as well," he said. "We don't want our veterans to have to drive to Montgomery for their care. We now have that capacity, so we hope that we can soon provide this type of care for them."

The commander said that LAHC needed major upgrades to several parts of the facility, and around 18 months ago $12 million worth of projects was funded and construction around the building began.

"That was a credit to our facilities staff and our leadership, but really the service chiefs that were here at the time saying, 'We have got to upgrade and improve this facility,'" he said.

About $800,000 was put aside from that $12 million to create the new physical therapy and chiropractic clinics.

"The main thing is convenience, and to keep Soldiers in the air," he continued. "Sometimes, in the past, when Soldiers needed this kind of care they had to get a down slip and would be disabled for a longer period of time."

Laterza said that many of the muscular-skeletal injuries that Army clinics see are incurred from Army intramural sports, such as football and ultimate disc golf, and that the "nature of the beast" of being a Soldier leads to these types of injuries.

This is the second grand opening this year at Lyster, with the first being behavioral health. The laboratory is slated to reopen in January and in June the pharmacy will reopen, said Laterza, adding that new staff will be hired for the physical therapy clinic in the coming months so Soldiers can get back to work faster.

Many walls came down and several new ones were put up during the last year for the new clinics, all in the effort to make the space more useable and modern for new and returning patients and staff.

"A lot of times you will see the differences between physical therapy and chiropractic medicine. But having them co-located allows them to work together and do the things that they do better than each other, and communicate better for the benefit of the patient," said Laterza.

He added that LAHC continues to be a great facility because it has the best employees and patients out there, and that it is really satisfying for him, personally, to see the construction come to an end.

"It feels great to see these things start and be completed. Usually you start something and as soon as things start to happen you (permanently change station) and you never know what happens to that plan.

"Lyster has been an incredible place where things have been accomplished," he continued. "This is all about patient care, which is what we do best."