Tom Kisken | Ventura County Star

Moments before she checked in as the first patient at the new Veterans Affairs clinic in Ventura, Debora Ehrich thought about how long veterans have wanted the facility and the new services that come with it.

“Forever,” said the Army vet from Camarillo.

The newly built clinic opened Tuesday morning at its home just off the 101 Freeway at 5250 Ralston Street. At 50,000 square feet, it’s more than twice as big as its predecessor, an Oxnard clinic off Rose Avenue that closed Friday.

And while the old clinic was run by a contracted company, the new center is run and staffed by the VA in a change long advocated by veterans.

The Ventura facility will also bring new services including dental care, physical therapy, rehabilitation, eye treatment and audiology. Veterans say the new care will mean fewer marathon trips out of the county to other VA facilities.

“Commuting to L.A. is insane,” said Joe Richardson, secretary for the Vietnam Veterans of Ventura County. The group has pushed for the new clinic for many years and provided a color guard for Tuesday’s opening.

Veterans will have to wait a little longer for some of the new services that are being phased in at the site.

Robert C. Merchant, executive director for ambulatory care services at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, said dental treatment is expected in November and audiology services should start soon. An eye clinic is scheduled to launch next year.

Services offered immediately include podiatry, primary care and mental health. A women’s health unit also opened Tuesday as part of the clinic.

It’s the first standalone unit of its kind in the greater Los Angeles system with a separate entrance and waiting room.

The clinic may be named for the late Navy Capt. Rosemary Bryant Mariner, the first woman to command an operational air squadron in 1990 at Ventura County’s Naval Air Station Point Mugu. The site would become only the third of 1,255 VA facilities to be named for women veterans, said U.S. Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Westlake Village, in a news release.

“Because so few veteran facilities are named after women, we are reminded of the inequity women veterans face,” said Brownley who has led the drive for the new clinic. Her bill making the name official passed the House last week and still needs to pass the Senate

On Tuesday morning, a bugler played. Vietnam veterans in hats that said “Brothers Forever” raised flags in honor of the United States, California and veterans who are missing in action or were taken as prisoners of war.

Moments later, Merchant delivered the long-awaited message.

“Ladies and gentleman, the new VA clinic is open for business,” he said.

This story was originally published by the Ventura County Star on September 27, 2022.

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