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Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald spent an afternoon at the University of Montana earlier this year to meet with veterans and discuss issues that affect their lives. 

The Veterans Affairs Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Missoula will be expanding, according to U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.

The existing 18,000-square-foot clinic in the Palmer Street Complex will grow by 24 percent under a new five-year lease under negotiation, Tester said in an email Wednesday. The extra room will allow for more patient visits, more privacy during appointments and more staff working space.

The clinic currently provides about 25,000 patient visits annually, a number that has overwhelmed the existing facility and led to a delay in some veterans getting appointments.

The VA is also working to build a larger, permanent outpatient clinic, Tester said. The announcement came a month after Tester and Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald visited the Missoula site.

“Secretary McDonald and I saw firsthand how important expanding the facility is for the brave men and women who served our nation,” Tester said in the email. “The expanded clinic will allow the VA to treat more veterans and provide the doctors the space they need to do their jobs. This facility is essential for veterans in western Montana, and this expansion will allow more folks to access the VA and improve care for veterans in our state.”

McDonald said about 10 million military veterans will be older than 65 by 2017.

In January, the General Services Administration confirmed it is studying the feasibility of converting the vacant Federal Building in downtown Missoula to a new outpatient clinic.

The facility was built as the original post office in 1911 and has been under GSA ownership since 1949. The U.S. Forest Service occupied the building until last year, when it moved to Fort Missoula.

Sally Mayberry, public affairs officer for the GSA’s Rocky Mountain Region, said in January the VA feasibility study should be complete in June.

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.