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Mobile Medical Unit offering necessary services to veterans

MORRIS – Korean War veteran Jack Kutches walked out of the veterans Mobile Medical Unit parked in front of the Morris American Legion on Monday with a smile on his face.

“I never needed it before because I have my own insurance,” Kutches said. “But now I have these hearing aids and I have to pay for those.”

The veterans MMU is 38-foot long traveling health clinic featuring two separate exam rooms and a counseling room that visits Morris on the first Monday of every month. The mobile medical center is offered through Edward Hines Jr. Veteran Affairs Hospital.

January’s visit was rescheduled for Monday because of the extreme cold temperatures last week.

“We wanted to bring health care to the veterans because a lot of veterans have difficulty getting to the main hospital and live in more rural areas,” said Charity Hardison, public affairs officer for the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital. “That was the primary focus – being able to reach those that have a difficult time getting to the hospital.”

Ken Buck, superintendent of the Grundy County Veterans Assistance Commission, said the closest veterans’ hospital to Morris and much of Grundy County is located in Joliet, with another nearby in LaSalle. With the new MMU coming to Morris once a month, local veterans will not have to travel as far to get many of the services offered at those veterans hospitals.

“We don’t have a veterans affairs clinic around here,” Buck said. “By having this bus here in town, it gives another opportunity for veterans to have access to their health care.”

The unit is staffed with about five health professionals, including a registered nurse and a social worker. The MMU is equipped to provide health screens, flu shots, blood pressure checks, mental health evaluations and more.

“In the near future, we should have a nurse practitioner who will do medication, full exams and things like that,” said Tyler Goodwine, social worker for the Hines MMU.

This is only the second month the MMU has visited Morris, and only the second year the MMU program has existed. So far, Hardison said the MMU has served a few thousand local veterans.

“We unveiled the unit in the late summer of 2012,” Hardison said. “It’s not the only MMU in the country, but it is the only one in the Midwest.”

Veterans do not need to make an appointment to visit the MMU and can receive a free health screening upon arrival. Veterans also can register for Veterans Affairs health care offered through Hines Hospital while visiting the unit.

Hardison said most veterans will end up paying little to no money for the services provided. She said each veteran is placed in a priority group and will receive different rates based on a variety of different factors.

“The important thing is that when they first show up at the MMU, it is free of charge for them,” Hardison said. “They can get a screening and they can get registered to see what their eligibility is for routine care.”

Hines Veteran Affairs Hospital is in Hines and provides care to about 54,000 veterans, primarily from Cook, DuPage and Will counties.

“Hines covers a good chunk of this area – Will, Grundy, Kendall, Kane,” Buck said. “Any veterans who are enrolled through the VA system are probably enrolled in Hines health care.”

Buck said they decided to bring the MMU to Morris after it made a visit during last year’s Grundy County Corn Festival.

He said the feedback for the unit was and continues to be positive.

“It’s an excellent opportunity for veterans, especially if they have questions about what services they can get beside healthcare through the hospital system,” Buck said. “They can talk directly to providers. My office can answer some questions, but it’s always nice to get answers directly from the source.”

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