U.S. House OKs extra funds for VA clinic; Bill gives facility $66M more
By MATT BLUMENFELD, “mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org”>email@example.com
A bill authorizing an additional $66 million in federal funding for a new Cape Coral veterans outpatient clinic won broad bipartisan support Wednesday as it sailed through the House of Representatives with nary a vote in opposition.
The bill, originally sponsored by Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, swept through the House by a 416-0 margin and is expected to find equally strong support in the Senate as it heads to the upper chamber.
“The men and women who have courageously served our country deserve the best America has to offer,” Rep. Connie Mack, R-Florida, said in a prepared statement. “That’s why I’m pleased Congress has approved a funding increase for the new VA outpatient clinic in Cape Coral. The new 200,000-square-foot outpatient and specialty clinic will help to meet the needs of Southwest Florida’s rapidly growing veterans population and enhance the quality of care available to our region’s veterans.“
Veterans Affairs acquired a 30-acre site at the intersection of Diplomat Parkway and Corbett Road for $9.9 million in September 2006 on which to build the new clinic, though ground has yet to be broken. The new Cape clinic will replace a facility in Fort Myers.
Congress originally authorized $65 million in funding for the new clinic two years ago, but the additional funding boosts the project’s total to $131 million.
Ken Krueger, quartermaster of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8463, said Thursday that he strongly supports the new clinic and the federal dollars, though he would like to see a VA hospital in the county. He said veterans who need more extensive care than an outpatient clinic can provide have to take a two-hour drive north to St. Petersburg.
“If they are going to the hospital, they have to go all the way up to Bay Pines,” said Krueger.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs Web site, the new clinic will offer “state-of-the-art primary and specialty care” with a bevy of special programs such as audiology, cardiac diagnostic services, orthopedics, detmatology, advanced imaging and minor surgery.
The project is currently in its preliminary design phase, which should be completed by September 2008. No firm project completion time frame has been established.
Cape Coral Councilmember Pete Brandt, who served in the Navy, said that while he does not use VA facilities right now, the new clinic’s features may convince him to avail himself of its use. He added that the Cape has a large veterans population and that the new clinic will be more than welcome when it opens.
“The people I know in this area that are going to use it have been looking forward to it for some time,” said Brandt.
The House also passed two other bills Wednesday that increase veterans benefits and reimburse them for emergency care received at non-VA facilities. Both of those measures passed without a dissenting vote.
A companion bill for the additional $66 million in funding is scheduled for debate in the Senate. Companion bills for the other two measures have only been introduced to the chamber.