Veterans Hear VA Proposal

This article was originally published by the Daily Advertiser in Lafayette Louisiana – the article can be read in its orginal form by clicking on the link totheadvertiser.com

Veterans hear VA proposal

Bruce Brown • bbrown@theadvertiser.com • September 23, 2010

The message was hard to miss Wednesday — military veterans in South Louisiana want better medical care, and they don’t want to have to go to Pineville to get it.

Gracie Specks, director of the VA Medical Center in Pineville, heard those concerns. She and her senior staff first met with members of the Veterans Action Coalition of Acadiana in the afternoon, then Specks fielded comments and questions from the audience at the group’s regular meeting.

“First of all, thank you to all of you veterans for our freedom,” Specks told the group. “You have done your part. Now, it’s our responsibility to take care of you.”

She made it clear that a VA hospital is not in the cards, since that actually takes an act of Congress to enact, but said the VA was committed to a greatly expandedCommunity Based Outpatient Clinic in Lafayette.

A similar CBOC facility is planned for Lake Charles, and the combination of those two facilities will alleviate much of the travel presently required by veterans for care.

Current plans call for a facility between 25,000 and 28,000 square feet, roughly three times the size of the current outpatient clinic in Lafayette. Reviews of specifics of the package will be conducted, then the VA will issue a request for proposal of bids.

Focused efforts by U.S. Sens. Mary Landrieu and David Vitter, as well as U.S. Reps. Charles Boustany Jr. and Charlie Melancon, are credited with speeding up the normally slow process of doing business in Washington, and officials are hopeful that progress will be shown by January.

“With their help, we should see bids for a super clinic on the streets two months sooner than usual,” said Specks, who listed many of areas of care to be provided by the expanded center.

“We will have lab services,” she said. “You won’t have to drive an hour and a half, and wait 40 minutes for an appointment, so we’ll bring the lab down here. We can have special services like urologists and cardiologists on certain days, or bring the surgeon here.

“We’ll definitely look at having a pharmacy. We’re adding OEF-OIF counselors. Dermatology will be handled by telemedicine. For surgery, we’ll be able to do the lumps and bumps but not something like major heart surgery. We can contract with private doctors into the Super Clinic.”

Female veterans have special needs that need to be addressed, Specks said. She also recognized long-range care needs in audiology and opthalmology for current military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as PTSD, head trauma and mental-health issues.

Specks got an idea of what to expect from the public from her afternoon meeting with the coalition, many of whom voiced concerns about the square footage issue.

“We will be unhappy if there are limits on this clinic,” said Rodney Hamilton, who continues to press for both a Super Clinic and a hospital despite the odds. “As military, we understand rules and regulations, but we’re looking for first best, not second best, care. If it’s limited, that turkey’s not going to fly.

“I feel the 25,000 (square footage) should be a minimum, with no ceiling. If you lock it in, you’ve obviously eliminated the space to grow.”

“When I served, the square footage I was allocated was a foxhole,” said Link Savoie. “No one is doing us a favor. We’re just asking for our just due.”

Both Specks and Bryan Bayley, Deputy Network Director based in Jackson, Miss., emphasized that expansion is a key ingredient of any new facility.

“If you’re talking about an inpatient facility, that gets into a whole different type facility than a CBOC,” said Bayley, himself a veteran from a military family, whose son has served two tours of duty in Iraq.

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