Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Camden Veterans Clinic Planned Outpatient Facility to Ease Crowding

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Camden Veterans Clinic Planned Outpatient Facility to Ease Crowding

Article excerpt

Byline: Terry Dickson, Times-Union staff writer

A new veterans health clinic planned for Camden County could provide treatment closer to home for many veterans while taking pressure off existing clinics, officials said.

Unlike hospitals for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which provide inpatient care including surgery, the clinics are similar to family practice facilities where veterans receive treatment for routine medical problems without extensive travel.

Of the eight clinics in the service area for North Florida and Southeast Georgia, three clinics -- in Jacksonville, Daytona Beach and Tallahassee -- provide specialty care, X-rays and other diagnostic services to outpatients, said John Pickens, a spokesman for the Veterans Affairs hospital in Lake City.

Although only tentative in the federal department's long-range plans, the inclusion of a Camden County clinic on a list of planned projects brings it closer to reality than ever, said Robin Ridgley, spokeswoman for the office of U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga.

"It's not a guarantee," Ridgley said of the department's plans, "but it's as certain as these things can be. It's in their budget, but things can come up."

Pickens also spoke with caution, saying, "It's not a done deal."

The soonest the clinic could be built is 2004.

But the need for such a clinic has been established, Pickens said.

The clinic has been added to the department's planning cycle in an area where there are many underserved veterans, including some who have been on waiting lists for months, he said.

The problem of underserved veterans has worsened after a change in federal law in 1996 that made all honorably discharged veterans eligible for services, Pickens said. Previously, only those with service-related medical problems and those with lower incomes were eligible, he said.

As a result of the change, visits at outpatient clinics increased dramatically in the North Florida-Southeast Georgia service area.

In the 1998 fiscal year, there were 62,138 veterans who accounted for 483,671 outpatient visits. A year later, 84,207 veterans made 748,392 visits. …

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