February 12, 2015

Victory for Vets: New VA Clinic to Offer Primary Care in Mercer County | Bluefield Daily Telegraph

After years of work and waiting, eligible veterans in southern West Virginia will have access to primary medical care services at a new VA clinic in Mercer County.

Beckley VA Medical Center Director Karin L. McGraw announced Wednesday that the Secretary of Veterans Affairs approved a VA clinic to be located at 1511 North Walker Street in Princeton. The Princeton VA Clinic will be an extension of the medical center and will offer access to primary care and telehealth services.

“Beckley VA is committed to providing primary care and mental health care for veterans in our entire catchment area” McGraw said in Wednesday’s announcement. “We are working to enhance these outreach efforts in Mercer County to help improve the availability of services to our south.”

The Princeton VA Clinic is expected to open by the summer of 2015, according to Debbie Voloski, public affairs officer for the Beckley VA. The clinic will have the capacity to provide primary care services to a total of 1,200 Veterans. Additional telehealth access to a variety of specialty consultative services will be available. Veterans currently receiving primary care services at the Mobile Outpatient Clinic, located along Stadium Drive in Bluefield will be reassigned to the Princeton VA Clinic.

The new clinic will serve veterans in Mercer, McDowell and Monroe counties as well as Clay, Fayette, Greenbrier, Nicholas, Pocahontas, Raleigh, Summers and Wyoming Counties, Voloski said.

Local veterans advocate Al Hancock of Bluefield said the VA hospital’s board of directors and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told him the news Wednesday. Hancock and other local veterans have worked for years to get a clinic in Mercer County.

“It looks like things are going to happen,” Hancock said. “As I told people at the Beckley VA Hospital, I’m going to encourage veterans all I can to use this facility. I was told they were being overwhelmed at the mobile clinic, and that there were over 600 veterans that use it. I was expecting 400 or 500, but boy, that knocked me down when I heard about the 600.

All these years I’ve been doing the best I can for my fellow man. This new clinic is not Al Hancock’s clinic. It’s for the veterans.”

The Princeton VA Clinic and the Princeton Veterans Center, now located on Mercer Street, will share quarters at 1511 North Walker Street, Hancock said.

Besides primary health care services, the new veterans clinic will also offer telehealth access to specialty consultation services, Voloski said. For instance, if a veteran needed a consultation with a dermatologist, one could be arranged with a specialist in Richmond, Va.

“There will be much enhanced services there,” she said.

Veterans will be able to obtain health services at the clinic, and mental health counseling at the veterans center, she stated. The VA is looking for ways to utilize the mobile clinic once the Princeton facility opens. One possibility is to use it to provide health care to veterans in rural areas.

The location at 1511 North Walker Street is the former site of Roller Floral. The property’s owner, James Carter, who served with the Army in Vietnam, said the renovated building was being leased to the Princeton Veterans Center and the upcoming clinic. Roller Floral remains open at a next-door location.

“We’ve just moved around to the back at 121 Douglas Street,” Carter said. “We’re open for business, right around the corner behind 1511 North Walker Street. I’m excited for the veterans, and I’m a veteran, too.”

Manchin said knowing a veterans clinic was coming to southern West Virginia was good news.

“As the number of veterans continues to grow in southern West Virginia, it is wonderful to announce that our veterans residing in Mercer County and around the region will finally have permanent access to the healthcare services they need. I’d also be remiss if I did not personally thank a very special veteran, Al Hancock, for tirelessly working toward this goal for nearly two decades,” Manchin said. “Al has spent his life serving our country: He’s a retired Air Force veteran who served two tours to Vietnam, and he is also a retired schoolteacher. I applaud Al, the VA, and all those who have worked so hard to bring this much-needed medical access to the local community.”

U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va. said veterans deserved the new service.

“In my first month as a member of Congress, I met with leaders at the Huntington and Beckley VA medical centers to learn how I can ensure our veterans are receiving the medical care they need and deserve. In particular, the need for a rural clinic in Princeton was a key topic in my discussion with the Beckley VA. Veterans across southern West Virginia often face many obstacles – transportation and rural roads among them – in obtaining medical care. Driving to the Beckley VA Medical Center may be difficult for some veterans in southern West Virginia, which is why I welcome today’s announcement,” he said. “The Princeton VA Clinic will allow veterans to receive medical care closer to home, and I applaud the VA for recognizing this need and filling a gap in primary care for veterans in West Virginia.”