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Temporary VA clinic to open in Hinesville
0612 VA clinic 3
The temporary clinic will share a building off Gen. Stewart Way with Armstrong Atlantic State University and the Georgia Department of Labor. - photo by Photo by Denise Etheridge

Area veterans’ long wait for close and convenient medical care nearly is over. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will open a temporary health-care clinic July 5 in Hinesville.
Veteran and 16-year Hinesville resident Hubert Cooper, 72, was thrilled to receive his letter from the VA on Thursday, informing him that his primary-care services would be transferred from Savannah to a temporary clinic in Hinesville.
Cooper said he recently had open-heart surgery and has to have blood tests run at least once a month, sometimes two or three times a month. He has been driving into Savannah for his appointments.
“When you have to go every month … well, (a local clinic) means a lot to me,” Cooper said. He said he still drives but added “I ain’t young no more.”
“I hear other veterans gripin’ about it all the time,” he said, referring to complaints he’s heard about veterans having to drive to Savannah or Charleston, S.C., for care.
 “There will probably be people from Richmond Hill coming over here to this one,” Cooper said.
“This has been a long time in the making and is the result of a lot of hard work with a great united team in Congress and in the community,” said U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Savannah. “With the ever-rising cost of gasoline, I cannot think of a better time to tell those who served so honorably that they won’t have to drive so far to get help.”
“We’re very fortunate to get that VA clinic here,” Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas said. “We have over 8,000-plus veterans in our 31313 zip code area alone.”
The 5,000-square-foot interim clinic will be in Suite 102 at the Patriot Center on East Gen. Stewart Way, confirmed Jennifer Lovett of VA public affairs. She said the temporary clinic will serve up to 2,400 veterans.
A site to build a 23,348-square-foot permanent VA clinic also has been selected, she said. The permanent facility will be located at the corner of Memorial Drive and Highway 84, where the Mills House now sits, according to Lovett.
The permanent facility will serve up to 12,000 veterans and offer primary care, mental-health care, select specialty care, general radiology, women’s health, OEF/OIF and optometry, she said.
A pre-bid conference for developers interested in bidding on the permanent Hinesville VA clinic was held May 26 in Savannah, according to Lovett.
“Proposals are due back to VA the end of June,” she said. Then a technical review board will recommend a developer, and a final bid should be awarded in December or January 2012, Lovett added.
“Construction is projected to take 18-24 months with VA occupancy anticipated for late 2013,” she said. “Construction costs are not known at this time. More accurate costs will be known when a developer is selected and the contract is awarded.”
Disabled American Veterans Chapter 46 Commander Walter Helmick said the interim clinic should be open three days a week until the permanent clinic is built.
“Now veterans won’t have to travel two to three hours to see their doctor,” Helmick said. “The clinic will be in their backyard; it will be a 10-15 minute drive to see their doctor.”
Having the interim clinic open three days instead of five may hinder some veterans’ care, but overall “the VA is moving in the right direction for the veterans in this area as well as veterans in the surrounding area,” Helmick said.
He said he’s been working toward bringing a VA clinic to Hinesville for about three years.
“There are no VA hospitals on the eastern side of Georgia,” Helmick said. “They’re all located on the west side. We need this.”
In August 2009, Helmick and Cort Nordeoff, Southeast District commander of the DAV for Georgia, attended a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee field hearing in Jesup. The hearing was chaired by U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., who had pledged to work with the VA in locating new clinics in Brunswick and Hinesville.
“At the beginning, they were talking about 10,000 square feet,” Helmick said. “With the numbers we presented, they realized that was too small.”
“(The Hinesville clinic) will be a lifesaver for us; I do believe that,” Nordeoff said. He estimated there are more than 54,500 disabled veterans in Southeast Georgia.
“It’s a big plus for our veterans,” Isakson said Friday. “I’m really pleased the VA has responded.”
Isakson said the VA outpatient clinic in Brunswick finally opened after three years of negotiations.
Veterans who come to the area often stay after they retire or are discharged, he said, and therefore VA clinics should be located nearby.
Isakson said an increasing number of young veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan also will need medical care.
“We’ve been at war for the most protracted time in our history,” he said. “Hundreds of thousands have served; many of them are leaving the military and many will need VA health care.”
Isakson said improvements have been made in the VA system, such as the VA’s Seamless Transition Program for soldiers who served in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The program helps soldiers make a smooth transition from receiving military health care to receiving care in a VA hospital or clinic located near where they plan to settle after leaving the service. 
“We’ve learned so much,” he said. “And with these new clinics (veterans’ medical care) is going to be closer to home.”
Isakson added that the community’s active participation was instrumental in bringing a VA clinic to Hinesville.

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