Final location for new VA clinic in Missoula expected next month

After nearly five years of work and searching for an appropriate site, Missoula could see a new Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic come to fruition this year.

While details remain scarce, Sen. Jon Tester said the VA has narrowed the future location of the David J. Thatcher outpatient clinic down to three sites, and a decision could be coming as early as next month.

The locations haven’t been disclosed.

“They’re looking at new construction,” Tester said. “It’s just a matter of getting folks to make a decision. We anticipate there will be a decision made within the next month.”

The effort to secure a larger Missoula clinic dates back to at least 2014 when Tester began pushing the VA to expand the facility. Back then, a VA consulting team toured the clinic and recommended a modest expansion of roughly 5,000 square feet.

Nearly a year later, the General Services Administration began studying the possibility of converting the vacant Federal Building in downtown Missoula to a new outpatient clinic. That effort was later deemed cost prohibitive, leaving the clinic’s future in limbo.

At the same time, the VA fell into controversy, resulting in the resignation of then-VA Secretary Erick Shinkseki, who was replaced by Robert McDonald and later by David Shulkin. Robert Wilkie now heads the agency.

The current Missoula clinic was expanded in 2017, though quarters remain tight. The region’s demand for VA care is projected to increase 43 percent over the next 20 years, and Tester said Missoula needs a larger clinic to meet those needs.

“It’s just getting the brick and mortar laid down and getting it built,” Tester said. “This clinic needs to be bigger. It needs to be about twice the size. If they can bring in the call center, which is what they plan on doing, it becomes more of a one-stop shop.”