Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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July 17, 2013

Victory for veterans — Mobile clinic, tele-health center welcomed

— While it may not be an actual brick-and-mortar facility that local veterans have been fighting for, the new mobile veterans clinic and tele-health center project are nevertheless welcomed and should be well utilized.

When the mobile facility was originally announced, there was some question as to whether it would be stationed out of Beckley or Princeton. But both U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., assured the Daily Telegraph Monday that the mobile unit will be stationed out of Mercer County. That’s good to hear. The fully-equipped mobile unit will go a long way in helping to improve the health of area veterans, as will the new tele-health clinic to be developed inside of the existing vet center on Mercer Street in Princeton.

“It’s a Mercer County veterans clinic to be stationed in Mercer County,” Manchin said of the mobile unit. “It will be worked out of Princeton. That is its home base. It can be a permanent base, or they can move it around to help (other veterans). But that will be decided by the Princeton Veterans Center ... It stays in Mercer County. We can use it all over Mercer County.”

We must now work to ensure that the mobile unit — once it arrives early next year — stays in Mercer County. And the best way to do that is to ensure that local veterans from across the deep south counties make full and frequent use of the facility. And the same goes for the tele-health clinic being added to the existing veterans center in Princeton.

The mobile unit will be fully self-contained with two exam rooms, a waiting area and restroom. It will also be able to maintain access to electronic records through satellite technology. Rahall said the delivery of the mobile unit — which resembles a large bus — will take about six to eight months.

The tele-health facility that will be added to the existing Princeton Veterans Center will open in the fall. It will provide tele-mental health services and access to a variety of specialty consultative services including tele-dermatology, gynecology, general surgery and a weight management program. The tele-health facility will allow local veterans to speak with and consult with specialty physicians over the Internet. But, in other instances, doctors will be on site to assist the online physician, according to Manchin.

Al Hancock, a local veterans advocate who has been fighting for a veterans outpatient clinic in Mercer County for 17 years now, is cautiously optimistic about the development.

“I just hope the veterans of this area will use it or we will lose it,” Hancock said. “I understand if we don’t utilize it they will move the mobile unit some other place. I have been working to get an outpatient clinic for more than 17 years. This unit is not what I expected, but these services will help us when the clinic is around Princeton.”

We agree. And we applaud Hancock for his tireless fight for an outpatient veterans clinic. And it is a fight that must continue. But the announcement of the mobile clinic and tele-health upgrade can certainly be viewed as a partial victory for veterans in our region.

We also thank Rahall, Manchin and U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., for working to secure the mobile health clinic and tele-health center. We realize that getting things done in Washington in the current political climate is not easy, but their actions are a victory for veterans across Mercer and McDowell counties.

Yes, we must continue the fight for a stand-alone outpatient clinic. And so must Rahall, Manchin and Rockefeller. But until such a facility can become a reality, a mobile veterans health clinic stationed out of Mercer County, as well as a tele-health center stationed out of the existing vet center in Princeton, is a well-deserved win for veterans across our region.

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