Sanders Still Pushing For Local VA Clinic

By:  Christopher Roy
Newport Daily Express

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders is continuing his efforts to open a Veterans’ Community Based Outreach Clinic (CBOC) in the Newport area. Such a clinic will give local veterans easy access to health care.

As it is now, veterans who want to get primary health care from the Veterans’ Administration (VA) have to travel to the veterans’ hospital in White River Junction or to the clinics in Colchester, Rutland, or Bennington.

“That’s a pretty tough trip, especially in the winter time,” said Sanders.

Last week Sanders spoke with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki about the need for a clinic. “We have urged him to support a VA clinic to the Newport area.”

People are more likely to utilize their primary care physicians when they are close to them, said Sanders. In June, representatives from his office held a telephone conference with the Veterans’ Administration and local veterans at the American Legion in Newport. At that meeting, veterans overwhelmingly said they would like to have a clinic in the Newport area.

“It’s an ongoing process and there are no guarantees,” said Sanders of the CBOC. The VA makes the decision about where CBOCs are located. Part of the procedure is comparing the needs in the Newport area to the needs elsewhere in the country. This includes looking at how many veterans live in a particular area and how many will be served by the clinic. “We’re making the effort and I hope we succeed.”

The VA will choose the site through a bidding process. It doesn’t have be in a hospital, but Sanders said one possible place is North Country Hospital.

“I personally think that would be a good location,” he said. “We obviously wouldn’t use the whole hospital, just some rooms in the hospital.”

Claudio Fort, president and CEO of North Country Hospital, acknowledged discussions between the hospital administration and VA officials have been ongoing. On Wednesday, Fort said hospital officials are interested in doing whatever they can to bring a VA clinic to the Newport area.

“We don’t have a sight picked out yet,” said Fort. “We’ve just had that meeting where we talked about its feasibility.”

Fort said one option is putting the clinic in one of the medical buildings that will be empty when Family Practice and Community Medical Associates relocate together in a new building next summer.

“I think their [the VA’s] preferred thing is to rent office space from us,” he said. “We also have the visiting doctors’ clinic area in the hospital.”

Wherever it is, the clinic will likely provide only part-time services, said VA Public Affairs Officer Andy LaCasse. He said the VA has been providing mental health services in the Newport area for about a decade.

If Newport is chosen, it won’t probably won’t open until 2011.