May 13, 2019

Princeton VA Clinic Moves To New Location | The Princeton Times

PRINCETON — Local, state and federal officials were on hand in Princeton Friday for the official grand opening of the new Princeton VA (Veterans Affairs) Clinic.

Located in Courthouse Square on Courthouse Road, the second-floor facility offers comprehensive medical care and replaced the much smaller facility on North Walker Street.

“It’s a glorious day here in Princeton,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who spoke along with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

Capito, the daughter of the late former Gov. Archie Moore, said she and Manchin work well together and their work on veterans issues is “seamless.”

She said veterans are special to her and having a father who was a World War II veteran makes an event like opening a medical clinic for veterans even more special.

“I always have him deep in my heart,” she said, adding that she feels “very strongly about his service and all the service of veterans.”

Capito said she was “really impressed with what I have seen with the clinic,” which offers primary and preventive care, mental health care, selective lab and pharmacy capabilities, TeleHealth and women’s health care.

Manchin said he and Capito both work for what’s best for West Virginia.

“It’s very seldom you find in Washington today a Democrat and a Republican who put the state first,” he said. “I am so proud to be able to represent the people of West Virginia and work with Shelley.”

Manchin and Capito praised Bluefield resident Al Hancock, who started spearheading the drive to locate a health clinic for veterans in the county 25 years ago, first getting a mobile outpatient clinic in Bluefield, then a permanent one in Princeton that opened in 2015 but eventually proved to be too small to serve the needs of area veterans.

“This gentleman (Hancock) made sure that Mercer County, Southern West Virginia and Princeton were represented properly and he made sure we knew this (the need for a clinic),” Manchin said. “We had to fight to get a portable clinic and keep it here” and had to fight for a permanent facility.

Manchin called Hancock a “can-do” man because he does not give up, a man who says that “you do nothing, you got nothing.”

The work to bring clinics and the services they provide to veterans continues, he added.

“Our main goal is to make sure the VA will never be privatized,” he said, referring to a recent move to send veterans to non-VA hospitals and facilities, especially for specialized treatments.

“We must modernize VA centers and stop sending out patients for care that could be offered by a VA hospital. I have not met a veteran who did not feel more comfortable going to veterans clinic or hospital more than any place else.”

Manchin said West Virginia has always been front and center in sending soldiers off to fight for the country and the work for veterans will not stop.

“We have to make sure we are there for them,” he said.

Hancock, a retired U.S. Air Force sergeant and Vietnam veteran, also spoke and was introduced by Manchin.

“Joe Manchin is a great man who has been a blessing to me and my family,” he said, thanking him for his help.

After working to bring medical care to veterans in county for so long, Hancock said he never gave up.

“I knew this day was coming, but I didn’t know when,” he said of the opening of a modern facility large enough to handle the need. “I always wanted to make sure veterans get proper care.”

Hancock, 82, said he remains committed to doing what he can for veterans.

“Anything I can do for you veterans you know who to talk to,” he said. “Come and see me and I will get it done.”

Stacy Vasquez, outgoing director of the Beckley VA Medical Center, which oversees the Princeton clinic, said Hancock has been a “tireless advocate” for veterans and when she first met Hancock he came to her office to see her and said he hoped she was not a “pumpkin head.”

She asked him what he meant by that.

“He said a pumpkin head is one of those people who says they are going to do something then doesn’t do it,” she said. “He said, ‘If you are not going to do something, tell me you’re not going to do it, and if you are going to do it, then do it.’”

Vasquez told him she would do her best and asked him what he needed and “he said we need a real clinic in Princeton.”

After visiting the area she told him later, “I think you are right. We need a real clinic.”

Many obstacles and challenges had to be overcome, she said, but it happened.

“It is a good day,” she said. “We have many, many things to be thankful for.”

Vasquez was in Princeton on the first day the clinic opened in January, and said the facility moved from its former North Walker Street location, “from about 800 square feet with five staff to this, which is 6,700 square feet and we will have about 12 staff here to start out. We’ve hired all the positions. They’re just moving in right now and we’re phasing them in so it’s manageable with patients.”

Vasquez said work on finding a larger location for the Princeton VA Clinic started in 2016 but work on a new Lewisburg VA clinic was already under way and that project had to be completed first.

The Courthouse Square location was found, and one of the physicians, Dr. Kamelash Patel, and his team “did a great job” of getting the space constructed, creating a clinic that “the community can be proud of,” she said.

Sara Yoke, public affairs officer for the Beckley VA Medical Center, said the new clinic “was built specifically to deliver modern health care. Its state-of-the-art and customized design optimizes patient flow and safety, and offers the latest in medical equipment and technology.”

Dr. Stephanie Phillips, medical director of the clinic, said the facility provides opportunities to serve more veterans.

“We are hoping to grow the clinic to 2,500 (veterans being served),” she said. “Right now we have about 1,100.”

Phillips said the area has a potential veteran population that can be served of about 5,000.

Master of ceremonies for the event was Craig Perkins, Equal Employment Opportunity advisor and alternative dispute resolution officer at the state Department of Veterans Affairs.

Presentation of the Colors was by the West Virginia National Guard.

Aretha Franklin Van Horn, a retired U.S. Army captain who works at the Beckley VA Medical Center, sang “Amazing Grace.”

Center Chaplain Paul Bricker delivered the invocation.


By:  Charles Boothe