Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Veterans Want a Change in Area VA Health System; St. Johns County Vets Call for Removal of 2 North Florida Leaders

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Veterans Want a Change in Area VA Health System; St. Johns County Vets Call for Removal of 2 North Florida Leaders

Article excerpt

Byline: Clifford Davis

The St. Johns County Veterans Council on Thursday night called for the removal of the Department of Veterans Affairs' North Florida/South Georgia Health System leadership in Gainesville; specifically, director Tom Wisnieski and assistant director Nick Ross.

"Nowhere have the problems in the Veterans Health Administration been more pronounced than here in Northeast Florida," council chairman Bill Dudley read from the petition calling for the pair's ouster. "Duval County's clinic has been identified as having some of the longest wait times in the country, St. Johns County has experienced total incompetence from the department in finding a suitable location for its community-based outpatient clinic, with the result being the squandering of millions of dollars in taxpayer money and damage to the local economy.

"At the center of this controversy are two names: Nick Ross and Thomas Wisnieski."

Wisnieski and Ross oversee every Veterans Health Administration facility in the region, including the Jacksonville and St. Augustine clinics.

For St. Johns County, in particular, the breaking point with Ross and Wisnieski came after the VA's inability to relocate the county's only VA clinic after receiving 3 1/2 years' notice from the county.

Notified in October 2011 that the property on which the clinic sits would be sold to Lowe's, all other county offices once located at the complex have moved.

Not the VA clinic.

The result was a deal that had to be reached between Lowe's, the county and the VA in which the VA agreed to pay fines of $64,000 per month for the first six months it remains at the old site. If not in a new home by the end of September, the fines increase to $100,000 per month.

During the three-plus-year saga, St. Johns County contacted the VA numerous times in an attempt to speed the process along, according to county records obtained by the Times-Union.

"This has been the most frustrating process I've ever been through with government, and I've been through a lot of them," Jerry Cameron, St. Johns County's assistant administrator, told the Times-Union in March. "The VA has raised every issue except the welfare of the veteran."

The whole process began when St. Johns County sent a letter to the VA in October 2011, notifying it of the impending sale. Mark Miner was chairman of the St. Johns County Commission at the time.

Miner displayed three sheets of paper to all attendees Thursday night. The first broke down the timeline of events showing increasing concern on the part of the county as officials reached out to the VA time and again. The second compared the timelines of the construction of the Empire State Building and America's involvement in World War II. Both took less time than the VA has had to build or lease another facility in St. …

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