Veterans such as James Parrish and Kenny Campbell were more than happy to celebrate the establishment of the Joplin Veterans Affairs Clinic.

Though it opened in February, a formal ceremony and ribbon-cutting was held Friday, drawing veterans, their families, state dignitaries and VA employees.

Officials, including the medical center director of the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks, Kelvin L. Parks, spoke at the ceremony. A Navy veteran, Parks oversees 1,700 employees at seven community-based outpatient clinics that serve 55,000 veterans in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri.

"It goes without saying that we are excited about this ribbon-cutting ceremony, which symbolizes the finalization of the opening of this clinic," Parks said.

"This clinic is a great example of the improvements being made across the United States," to bring care closer to places that have large populations of veterans such as Southwest Missouri, Parks said.

"It is a godsend not to have to drive to Fayetteville (Arkansas)," said Kenny Campbell, of Joplin. He has used the clinic three or four times since it opened, once for an emergency. And it holds a two-fold blessing for him, he said, because his daughter is employed there.

Parrish, of Webb City, has a voice impairment and comes to the clinic for assistance in making telephone calls.

"It's made it a lot closer" than having to go to the Fayetteville VA hospital, he said. Parrish also sometimes experiences bouts of pain, and it is much quicker for him to come to Joplin to get treatment than to have to drive 60 miles to Arkansas. The wait in Joplin to see a doctor is shorter, as it is for getting relief from the pain, Parrish said.

Both Parks and Missouri's Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe said the state and federal governments are interested in seeing that veterans get care as close to home as possible.

"It means a ton for veterans and the caregivers because a lot of family members get involved in helping veterans with access. For them to not have to drive to Fayetteville or even farther to Springfield or Columbia makes it that much more convenient," Kehoe said.

"The governor and I and our Legislature always say that whatever we can do provide to closer and better services to veterans, we should be doing that because these are the heroes that served our company and we want to make sure we take care of them."

Joplin's clinic is located at 3105 S. Connecticut Ave. It provides primary care, mental health services including post traumatic stress disorder, laboratory testing, hearing aid repair and assistance to homeless veterans. Appointments can be made by calling 417-621-6600.

Housing for homeless veterans has been a priority for local agencies, organizations and government, Parks said.

"To this great city of Joplin, I say 'thank you.' When we announced we were coming here to Joplin, this community welcomed us. The city of Joplin supported us and engaged with us to provide support for us to take care of our veterans. But the truth is, this wonderful community of Joplin has been supporting veterans for years before the VA clinic opened," he said.

"We could not ask for more support from Joplin," Parks said.

Veterans gift

Allen Shirley, president of the Joplin Historical Society, presented a gift to the veterans on behalf of the Joplin History and Mineral Museum.

He provided a framed display of items he acquired related to Sgt. Alvin York. York was the Tennessee sharp shooter who won national acclaim in World War I by attacking a German machine gun nest.

York was credited with killing at least 25 enemy soldiers and capturing 132. He was one of the most decorated Army soldiers of the war, including the Medal of Honor.

Shirley's exhibit includes a photograph of York and actor Gary Cooper portraying York in the 1941 movie "Sgt. York" as well as a replica of the medal bestowed upon York for his exemplary service.

Parks said the exhibit will hang in the Joplin Veterans Affairs Clinic.