By David Esteppe
In a town hall meeting at the Army National Guard Armory in Lewisburg last week, the U.S. Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald discussed the future of the local Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) that closed its doors permanently in April.
With over 200 people at the town hall meeting, including both of West Virginia’s U.S. Senators and a U.S. Representative, McDonald apologized to the veterans present about the closing of the clinic in April and the length of time it has taken to reopen a facility here in Greenbrier County.
Beckley VA Medical Center director Karin McGraw then told the crowd about a temporary modular clinic that will hopefully be open by December. The clinic will be located in Lewisburg.
VA Public Affairs Officer Debbie Voloski confirmed that, firstly, a modular building would be purchased by the VA and placed in or around Lewisburg once a lease for a relevant property was secured, and, that this is targeted to be complete by December. Secondly, Voloski added that a permanent building and location for the CBOC would be forthcoming once a lease was secured for the land and building and the requisite time of six-eight months for build-out or renovations of the acquired leased property. The choice of Lewisburg is optimal due to the concentration of veterans within the immediate area.
During the town hall meeting, several veterans expressed themselves to McDonald about a variety of issues, including the time it has taken to address the closing of the Lewisburg clinic, the number of physicians the clinic staffed, and, from local veteran Sonja Velez, concern over inadequate care for female veterans.
As reported in the Register Herald, Velez stated that she had been waiting for five years for a hip replacement and that female veterans do not get the care that they need, such as mammograms or complete physicals, because the VA doesn’t offer them. She also stated that at a time when she had a heart attack, she was the only female patient in the VA hospital where she ended up, and that her dignity then had been completely disregarded, requiring her to demand that curtains be drawn around her glass-walled room.
McDonald acknowledged the need for system-wide reforms to meet the needs of women, who are an estimated 11 percent of the veteran population. He also said that the last VA budget had been cut by $1.4 billion and that may mean that no money is available for further construction to transform facilities and services.
He also said that one challenge for today’s Department of Veterans Affairs is not only the constant state of war for more than a decade, but the aging veteran population. He said he is trying to educate congress that the VA needs to build today for tomorrow’s aging veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He finds himself at odds with an opposing philosophy funded by the Koch brothers, whose position is to privatize the VA.