A bill passed Friday by the U.S. House of Representatives includes the authorization of $18.6 million for a Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Jacksonville meant to eventually replace two existing facilities.
The unanimous vote extended funding for the Veterans Choice Program and authorized leases for 28 VA medical facilities in the country, according to the bill.
The program allows veterans who meet certain qualifications to seek care from health care providers outside the VA, and the bill passed Friday provides $2.1 billion to continue the program for six more months.
The portion of the bill that directly impacts Jacksonville involves the potential clinic constructed at an undecided location. If the bill is signed into law, the future clinic will replace Jacksonville VA Southpoint and Jacksonville VA University.
The Southpoint facility is 30,000 square feet, according to the VA. It provides primary care, mental health treatment, physical therapy, occupational therapy, traumatic brain injury treatment and prosthetics. The University Boulevard facility is 20,000 square feet, according to the VA. It provides primary care, mental health treatment and women’s health options.
The two clinics operate in addition to the main Jacksonville VA Outpatient Clinic at 1536 N. Jefferson St. near UF Health Jacksonville.
U.S. Rep. John Rutherford of Jacksonville said he is encouraged by progress at the VA, but he believes long wait lines and inadequate care are still issues with the organization. He said extending funding for the VA Choice Program was essential to curtail those problems.
He also vowed to work with Rep. Al Lawson to see the project through to completion.
“This is long overdue since Northeast Florida is home to over 150,000 veterans who rely on these services,” Rutherford said. “I thank Chairman [Phil] Roe and the Veterans’ Affairs Committees for recognizing and including the authorization for this vital clinic in this package, and I look forward to continuing to work alongside Congressman Lawson to make the project become a reality.”
That reality is still a long way away.
Rutherford’s office said the U.S. Senate is expected to take up the bill before adjourning Aug. 11, and if the bill passes through the Senate and is signed by the president, the lease for the new facility should be granted within 26 months of the bill becoming law.
Construction generally takes 32 months and the clinic can open about six months after that, according to Rutherford’s office.
That means a rough estimate of five years before the new Jacksonville clinic can open.
The VA cannot speak on pending legislation or laws that have not been implemented, but it can discuss proposed construction, said Dan Henry, spokesman for the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System.
He said the VA has been waiting for the approval of this project for some time, and if the bill is signed into law the plan for the lease includes a facility that encompasses about 164,000 square feet in the Jacksonville area with 1,150 parking spaces.
Henry said part of the proposal is to include a residential mental health service at the facility.
“I am pleased that this bill included authorization for a replacement VA outpatient clinic for the city of Jacksonville and I look forward to continuing to work with Congressman Rutherford to guarantee that veterans have the resources they need and deserve,” Lawson said.
You can read the original TU article here.