FORT SILL, Okla., Feb. 14, 2019 -- Area veterans mobbed the newly expanded Lawton-Fort Sill VA Outpatient Clinic for the grand opening of its new wing Feb. 8.

"Right now, we are about to open up our new specialty side, which will have optometry, a women's clinic, audiology, physical therapy, occupational therapy, more telehealth services, and prosthetics," Wade Vlosich, executive director of the Oklahoma City VA Health Care System, told the assembled throng.

"In Lawton, you have around 10,000 veterans in this community. And what we are trying to do is bring the services closer to you," Vlosich said.

Stacy Rine, public affairs officer for the Oklahoma City VA Health Care System that oversees the clinic here, said over 8,000 invitations were mailed, telling veterans about the new services and inviting them to an open house and resource fair.

Vlosich and Dr. Ahmed Abou Elmagd, medical director for the local VA clinic, plied the oversized scissors to cut the ribbon. This was the signal for a torrent of veterans who had anxiously awaited this moment to pour down the corridor, where a line of health care professionals from all levels stood waiting to greet them.

The grand opening included a resource fair where veterans could visit various tables to get information about VA programs such as the ones on suicide prevention, mental health care, and the MOVE program for weight management.

Vlosich said the new wing is only the first phase of the clinic's expansion. The Oklahoma City VA Health Care System has been working with the Department of Defense to secure the shuttered Weeks Dental Clinic on post next month.

"We will be expanding dental services and other services, out to the Weeks Clinic. And so we're very excited about all the new services that we can bring out here to Lawton so that way you won't have to travel up to the city," he said.

"You served our country, and so our job here is to serve you," Vlosich told the veterans.

Stan Schofield, a military retiree living in Duncan and commuting to work for New York Life Insurance Company in downtown Lawton, said he really likes the new clinic, especially being able to get fitted for orthotic shoes without having to go all the way to Oklahoma City.

David Rollins, administrative officer for the Lawton-Fort Sill VA Outpatient Clinic, said the new addition "is going to be very good for our veterans."

"One of the key things, instead of now having to go to Oklahoma City for services that we're going to have here, they can come here. So it cuts down on drive time, cuts down on having to go so far away."

Hours will be the same, 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. The appointment procedure likewise will be the same: clients will call their original provider to set up a time. The Lawton-Fort Sill VA Outpatient is in Building 4303 on Pitman Road, west of Reynolds Army Health Clinic.

Vlosich said the staff is very proud of the turnout for the grand opening, but what they're most proud of are the services they're going to be able to offer to the veterans locally in Lawton as they start to see all their plans come to fruition.

The services that the VA chose to include in phase one of the expansion are the ones that were most highly utilized by the local veteran community, he noted.

"One of the biggest requests that we had was for physical therapy, because either they were going to Oklahoma City or they were going to the private sector. But they wanted their own clinic here, and we have a lot of demand for it. So we opened that up.

"We also were having a lot of patients who were going to Oklahoma City for prosthetic devices, and so we wanted to bring that here to Lawton, so they wouldn't have to travel up there.

"And finally, the women's population here has grown so much that we decided what's best is to start this women's clinic down here in Lawton.

"That's just phase one. The next phase is what we're doing with the Weeks Clinic, we're going to expand dental over in Weeks. We're going to add six new mental health staff out there. We're expanding chiropractic services. And then we're looking at bringing other sub-specialties to Lawton, like cardiology, orthopedics, and some of those. So that way, veterans don't have to travel up to the city, they can get all these services right here in their hometown," Vlosich said.

He said the Lawton-Fort Sill VA Outpatient Clinic serves about 12,000 to 14,000 VA enrollees in southwest Oklahoma and Wichita Falls, Texas, which is part of the Oklahoma City VA Health Care System. The clinic sees about 10,000 of those per year, or about 200 encounters a day.

When fully staffed, the Lawton-Fort Sill VA Clinic will have a staff of 127.