Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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March 27, 2013

Rahall: Medical center expansion will not impede veterans clinic

PRINCETON — A multi-million dollar expansion of the Beckley VA Medical Center will not impact a long planned veterans outpatient clinic for Mercer County, U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said Tuesday.

“I don’t feel that it will hurt the chances (of a Mercer County clinic),” Rahall said in a telephone interview with the Daily Telegraph. “It shows the strength of our veterans in this region. The continuing budget resolution we passed last week included language at my request requiring the VA to report on its efforts to expand access to health care for elderly veterans and in under served rural areas. What I’m doing there is asking the VA to collaborate with local health facilities so that veterans have access to care at a location that is close by — which will cut down on travel time — and spare them added stress.”

Rahall said the Raleigh County expansion was something already budgeted and “in the pipeline” for some time.

“It 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 added. “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.”

Rahall helped to break ground Monday on the expansion project at the Beckley VA Center. The $10.2 million expansion includes a new 8,000-square-foot building adjacent to the main medical center, and a 2,300-square-foot, second-floor deck suite.  Area officials, including local veterans advocate Al Hancock, have been fighting for years to get the VA to agree to a clinic in Mercer County. Princeton Community Hospital has offered to provide space for such an outpatient clinic.

Jonathan Kott, communications director for U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., also agreed Tuesday that the fight for a Mercer County clinic continues.

“The senator and his staff, along with the West Virginia congressional delegation, are in constant contact with the VA and are working tirelessly towards resolving this matter so that the veterans of McDowell and Mercer county get the treatment they deserve,” Kott said.

Rahall said the PCH site is still a “viable option” for an outpatient clinic in Mercer County. He urged area veterans to continue their fight for a local clinic.

“We continue to push the VA on this site, or others that may be available,” Rahall said. “It’s just something we continue to push. Nothing is easy these days.”

Rahall said area veterans also need to keep registering with the VA.

“I just commend every veteran first and foremost for their service to our country, and right along with that just keep up your efforts with the VA, and don’t back down,” Rahall said.

– Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com

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