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Hinesville looks to gain outpatient clinic

Help on the way for veterans

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POSTED: September 15, 2007 5:05 a.m.
A new Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic is slated to open in Hinesville by 2012, but the announcement was met with a lukewarm response from military veterans.
Flanked by Hinesville Mayor Tom Ratcliffe and Liberty County Commission Chairman John McIver at a press conference Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Savannah) said “nothing in Washington, D.C. is ever in the bag,” but Hinesville’s placement on the VA’s Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services list makes it a priority for a new VA clinic site.
“You've made the CARES list ... I can promise you, you want to be on that list,” the congressman told veterans, who filled the Hinesville City Hall meeting room. “This is the way to get the VA clinic going.”
Hinesville made the list behind Brunswick, Camden County, Milledgeville and Perry. Each are set to have a clinic operating by 2010.
But Kingston, McIver and Ratcliffe are working to have Hinesville moved up from its expected 2012 start date, according to the congressman.
“We’re unified in making sure, if it’s possible, that we accelerate that. We would like to see it open sooner rather than later,” Kingston said. “We know the need and we know the number of veterans in the area is critical.”
Ratcliffe said a $10,000 local assistance grant allocated for the city in the Georgia General Assembly’s fiscal year 2008 budget could be used to help with the acceleration effort, but more importantly will go toward completing a study to decide the most convenient Hinesville location for the facility.
Although the vets in attendance were pleased to hear a hometown clinic was on the way, questions still remained about the quality of service that would be provided at a new clinic, based on the history of the nearest existing clinic.
Liberty County resident and Vietnam War veteran Bruce McCartney said he welcomed "a new VA clinic, no matter where it is," but worried the staffing problems plaguing the clinic in Savannah would repeat themselves in Hinesville.
"When the Savannah outpatient clinic was built several years ago, you'd go down there and there were doctors, dentists, physical therapists, mental health people and a full-service pharmacy," he said. "If you go there today, there are no dentists, there is no pharmacy, mental health's a revolving door for medical practitioners and the staff there is overworked. If we get this new facility here and we can't even staff the one we have right down the road, how's this thing going to be staffed?"
Kingston responded that planners and administrators are going to have to be very careful about keeping the clinic fully staffed, adding he shared McCartney's concern about personnel.
Garlon Penlande, commander of the local Disabled American Veterans and Auxiliary chapter, questioned the possibility of eventually bringing inpatient, long-term care for veterans to Hinesville.
"This is going to be a VA clinic," he said. "Will there be a possibility with the number of veterans that we have here in Liberty, Long and surrounding counties of getting a VA hospital?"
"If we put all our military-related issues on the table and figure out what are the possibilities that should be something we look into, but I don't want to say absolutely," Kingston answered. "But I think we need to make sure that question is explored."
 

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