Veterans, the wait is just about over. The Joplin Veterans Affairs clinic is to open Tuesday morning.

The clinic will launch its operations Tuesday and is expected to affect more than 7,000 veterans in the Four-State Area. It will offer primary care, mental health services and support for homeless veterans.

The clinic at 3015 S. Connecticut Ave. is a two-story building with 10 consultation rooms on the first floor for behavioral health services, a pharmacy consultation space, and rooms for group therapy or support networks. The second floor will be used for primary care and radiology.

The clinic is designed to promote collaboration among staff and ensure patients receive care in a timely and efficient manner. Care is provided by a team consisting of a physician, registered nurse, licensed practical nurse and a clerk.

"We take the care to the patient all in one room, rather than sending a patient to a different room somewhere else in the clinic," said Wanda Shull, public affairs officer for the VA. "The set-up we have here makes it very patient-centric."

David Driscoll was able to use the clinic's services on Monday when he met with his peer support specialist, Robert Wood. As a peer support specialist, Wood provides support to veterans who are in recovery.

Driscoll, a 51-year-old Army veteran, has been using VA services since 2013. Originally from St. Paul, Minnesota, Driscoll began self-medicating at an early age and came to Joplin to be with his daughter, who relocated with her mother.

Driscoll receives mental health services and uses the HUD-VASH program, which helps homeless veterans find permanent housing. He's now been in his own apartment for almost a year and holds two part-time jobs.

"I'm not the same person I was two years ago," Driscoll said. "Two years ago, I self-medicated my feelings and emotions with anything I could get my hands on because that's all I'd known growing up."

Two years ago, Driscoll pleaded guilty to a DUI and was sentenced to Veterans Treatment Court. On Monday morning, he graduated from the treatment court, lifting restrictions that will open the door for him to get a full-time job.

"It's hard to put into words how it feels to have my own place and have a lot of these restraints from my court case lifted," Driscoll said. "There's this satisfaction of feeling like a real human being that's not there when you have an addiction."

The Joplin clinic is the second to open in Southwest Missouri in the past six months, the other being in Springfield. The VA announced in February 2016 it would open a new clinic in Springfield to replace the Gene Taylor Outpatient Clinic in Mount Vernon, and a year later it announced the Joplin location.

VA officials estimate the clinic in Springfield will affect 8,000 to 9,000 veterans, and the Joplin clinic 7,000 veterans.

Without a license or car, Driscoll had to use the Disabled American Veterans transportation service to get to the Mount Vernon clinic, but it was sometimes difficult to work around his work schedule. A closer location means Driscoll can use the Sunshine Lamp Trolley or ride his bike, which he did on Monday.

"Being here in Joplin is great because it will mean less time on the road and having to use less of the other services," Driscoll said. "This will open up treatment opportunities for other veterans."

Wood, Driscoll's peer support specialist, was instrumental in helping him during his recovery and inspired him to become a peer support specialist himself. He's gone through the training and is about to receive his certification.

A VA peer support specialist must be a veteran in recovery, and Wood said that because each person has had an addiction, it's a much different dynamic than that of a patient and therapist.

"We can talk about the challenges we face and the obstacles to our recovery," Wood said. "It's great to have a doctor tell you the things you ought to do, but it's easier when you've got somebody who has stumbled down the same roads."

Driscoll said he is excited about the opportunity of becoming a peer support specialist and continuing his work preaching at Souls Harbor. He plans to continue receiving mental health services at the clinic and working with the HUD-VASH program.

"I enjoy helping other people, and a peer support specialist is a perfect avenue," Driscoll said. "I'm looking forward to a new chapter."

Appointments

To arrange an appointment, call 417-621-6600.

Reporter

Tyler covers Jasper County, which includes the Carthage City Council, Jasper County Commission and anything in between. Tyler can be reached at twornell@joplinglobe.com or 417.627.7258.