Active-duty military, veterans, elected officials and Department of Veterans Affairs personnel gathered Friday morning outside the new Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center Hinesville Outpatient Clinic at the intersection of Oglethorpe Highway and Memorial Drive for an official ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Guest speakers for the event included Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas, Winn Army Community Hospital Commander Col. Kirk Eggleston, Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center of Charleston Interim Director Scott Isaacks and VA Southeast Network Director Charles Sepich. U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Georgia, served as the keynote speaker.
Although he was lauded by nearly all the other speakers for being instrumental in getting the new clinic approved, funded and built, Kingston said it was, in fact, local leaders — nearly all of whom are veterans — who made the new clinic possible. He said cooperation between active-duty military leaders and local veterans who worked with veterans’ service organizations, national elected leaders and the VA made the 23,000-square-foot facility possible.
“We have to make sure we take care of our veterans because they are part of our national security system,” Kingston said, touching briefly on the scandal still being investigated at VA medical centers. “We want to get this straight, and we’re going to get his straight... Why are we here now when so many others are having trouble with the VA? I attribute it to local leadership.”
After the ribbon cutting, Kingston responded to media questions. He reiterated that the new clinic is much larger than the one originally proposed. Recognizing the already-high number of veterans in the surrounding area and anticipating even more veterans in the near future, he said a larger facility was designed and approved. The 3rd Infantry Division repeatedly has been deployed and those soldiers leaving the service now want to know this clinic will be there for them, the legislator added.
Kingston said congressional leaders know the resignation of VA Secretary Gen. Eric Shinseki is not the end of the current VA scandal. He said they know there are other people involved in the “waiting list” for veterans seeking health care.
Kingston said he’s sure there is no rule in existence forcing the VA to deliberately drag its feet on veterans’ disability claims, but whether delays were due to a backlog of claims or inefficiency, would need to be investigated. To provide veterans the care they need, he wants to make sure the VA is adequately funded to do its job.
During his remarks, Sepich said he believes the overwhelming majority of VA personnel are compassionate people who want to provide the best care possible to veterans. Isaacks echoed his sentiment during a private interview with the Courier. He said VA employees work for the VA because they’re passionate about helping veterans.
“When you look into large, integrated health-care systems and many of the matrix that are followed in terms of quality of care, the VA has provided about the best care you can get anywhere,” Isaacks said. “I can tell you that in Charleston, we have one of the best VA medical centers in the VA system.”
Isaacks said the Hinesville clinic currently has no backlog of veterans waiting for care, and he’s confident the clinic’s staff will work to keep it that way. In addition to the specialty care already provided at the new clinic, he said they’re looking into getting specialists in orthopedics and audiology. If the number of veterans in the community continues to grow, Isaacks said the VA is ready to reassess community veterans’ medical needs and do whatever is necessary to meet those needs.