Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

April 3, 2013

Outpatient clinic — Shameful wait for area veterans

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Are area veterans being ignored by their elected representatives in Washington? One could certainly make a convincing argument that they are, particularly in light of recent developments.

The tipping point may have came last week when it was announced that a $10 million expansion of the Beckley VA Medical Center in Raleigh County was underway. Many area veterans and officials were surprised by the announcement, and wondered what impact it would have on the long-proposed outpatient clinic for Mercer County. And that’s a good question.

Don’t get us wrong. The expansion of the Beckley VA center is good news. And it is a victory for veterans across southern West Virginia.

But the questions begs to be asked: If $10 million can be allocated to a large-scale expansion of the VA Center in Beckley, why can’t a much smaller project be green-lighted for Mercer County? Finding a location for a Mercer County facility won’t be a problem. Princeton Community Hospital is still offering space on its medical campus for a veterans clinic.

Pressed on the issue during a visit to Mercer County Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he hopes to hear something from the VA in about 90 days

“I would hope it would be positive,” Manchin said. “We are very hopeful, but we could be let down overnight.”

And U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., didn’t inspire a lot of additional confidence when questioned about the same issue last week.

“It (the Raleigh County expansion) was something already in the pipeline, and certainly in today’s sequestration, and furlough and prohibition on earmarks by the Republican-controlled House, additional investments of this nature is good news for all of our veterans in this area,” Rahall said. “Every dollar our region’s VA health care center invests in our veterans signals a recognition of the strength of our regional veteran population. So when we look at Mercer County specifically, I continue to press the VA to look at the situation in Mercer County, and assess the feasibility of a VA clinic, as well as partnerships with the community.”

OK. We have been pressing the VA for more than a decade. And PCH is more than willing to partner with the VA. So what will it take to get an answer? And blaming the continued uncertainty surrounding an outpatient clinic in Mercer County on the federal sequestration, and the Republican party, is not the answer we are looking for.

What we need is an answer from the VA, and an answer from our lawmakers in Washington. Either Mercer County is going to get an outpatient clinic, or it isn’t. Don’t continue to dance around this question. Don’t continue to leave our veterans — those proud men and women who fought so bravely for our nation — hanging. That’s disrespectful and shameful.

Our close-knit region is united behind our veterans, and their desire for an outpatient clinic that is close to home.

 Our veterans deserve an answer. And they deserve an answer now.