Request made for veterans clinic in county

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

The need for a veterans clinic in Dubois County is back on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ radar.

U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly contacted the VA via letter in August, requesting the national agency assess the need for a clinic in this area and the possibility of placing a hybrid clinic here.

Dubois County Veterans Service Officer Bob Johnson learned about the correspondence in September, and received a copy of the letter last week.

“This is awesome,” Johnson said. “And I am hopeful. “This is the farthest we’ve gotten on this.”

The Aug. 21 letter cites the hybrid clinic that opened in Shelbyville this year. That project is a partnership with Major Health Partners, which donated about 5,500 square feet for the clinic in its new facility southeast of Indianapolis. The VA created a similar partnership for a clinic in Howard County, using space in the city-county clinic in Kokomo.

The letter noted that the Shelbyville clinic was able to open in less than a year, as opposed to the five years it would take the VA to construct a facility.

“In light of this success, I request that you provide me with your updated assessment of the VA-provided health care services in Dubois County and the surrounding counties,” Donnelly wrote, “an assessment of any unmet needs of the veterans residing in this area; and recommendations for how to meet those needs, including an assessment as to whether a hybrid clinic in Dubois County is a viable option to increase access to care.”

Johnson said he hopes the VA will open a similar clinic in Dubois County.

“I’m hoping the qualifications of that is more lenient,” he said. “We really need a clinic in this area.”

Efforts to get a clinic in the county have been ongoing for years. In 2013, local veteran groups talked to VA officials about the struggles local veterans face, including the time veterans, especially elderly veterans, spent getting to and from the clinics in Evansville and New Albany or the Louisville hospital.

The VA did an assessment then and determined that there were not enough veterans in the area to warrant a clinic. But that is because the VA is not aware of the number of veterans in the area, Johnson said.

“(VA officials have) said that we don’t have enough veterans in this area,” he said. “But there is no way for them (VA) to have an accurate count. People move in and out of the area; people pass away. You can’t go by service organizations because some people don’t join them and some people aren’t qualified to join then. So that is not an accurate count.”

Therefore, Johnson strongly encourages veterans to apply for the VA’s health benefits, even if they don’t qualify for them.

“I push every veteran to apply for the health benefit,” he said. “If they at least apply, it dings the system and shows the VA that there are veterans in the area. That’s the only way to keep track of the numbers. That’s the only accurate way.

“If more veterans apply, it would show more numbers of veterans in this area.”

Johnson has heard veterans say they don’t bother applying. “A lot of guys are not going to do that because they are not going to use the VA because it is so far away,” he said. “If we had a clinic here, I think you’d be surprised at how many veterans are in this area.

And, a clinic in Dubois County would help veterans in nearby counties.

“It’s not only going to affect Dubois County, it would affect surrounding counties,” Johnson said. “It would be closer than going to the Evansville clinic or the New Albany clinic or Louisville hospital. So it’s not just our area. It’s the surrounding counties, too.

“I think the numbers would skyrocket if we got a clinic here.”

The VA has not yet responded to the request for a clinic in Dubois County.

“At least this is a start” Johnson said. “Somebody is looking into it. And that is way past where it was before.”




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