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VA clinic plan clears first funding hurdle

By Staff | Sep 13, 2008

Cape Coral’s hope for a new veteran’s outpatient clinic edged a little closer this week when the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that could pave the way.

The bill, HR 6832 or the Veteran’s Programs Extension and Construction Authorization Act, offers $131 million for the construction of a 200,000-square-foot clinic in Cape Coral.

It authorizes funds for medical facilities across the country including a VA Medical Center in Orlando worth $656.8 million and expands VA authority in providing health care benefits and other programs.

Officials explained that an authorization bill from May was stalled and HR 6832 was introduced and passed this week to move the issue forward.

“Although the House had to pass this important funding authorization again, I’m very pleased that the authorization for the new outpatient clinic in Cape Coral remains $131 million,” said U.S. Rep. Connie Mack. “It is a fitting tribute to the tens of thousands of veterans in Southwest Florida.”

Ken Krueger, a former post commander at the VFW post in Cape Coral, said local veterans have been monitoring the project.

“We are very excited about it, we think it’s a great idea,” said Krueger. “There is a big population of a lot of retired veterans. They are getting older.”

He explained that there are many World War II and Korean War veterans who are in their 70s or 80s and a local veteran’s clinic would benefit them.

Stephanie DuBois, spokesperson for the Office of Connie Mack, explained that even though the funds have been authorized by HR 6832, the project won’t move forward until that funding is appropriated in another piece of federal legislation.

She added that appropriations for the clinic will most likely be included in the Military, Construction and Veteran Affairs Appropriations Bill but the office is unclear of when that will be brought to the floor.

The Bay Pines VA Health System in St. Petersburg is the parent hospital for the current clinic in Fort Myers and also will oversee the new facility in Cape Coral. Faith Belcher, spokesperson for Bay Pines, said that the project currently is in the design phase but they are expecting it to be completed by 2011.

Also, 30 acres of land has been purchased on the intersection of Diplomat Parkway and Corbett Road.

According to Belcher, the city was chosen as a site for the new clinic because of the growing veteran population in Southwest Florida. She said there are approximately 202,000 veterans across the region and the Fort Myers clinic on Winkler Avenue serves 28,000 veterans.

“Due to the growing number of veterans in Southwest Florida it was an ideal location near I-75,” she said. “Also, the Cape Coral clinic will be a multi-specialty outpatient center that will be offering many services not available at the clinic on Winkler Avenue.”

Currently, veterans who receive care at the Fort Myers clinic have to travel to St. Petersburg to receive any services that aren’t available locally. Officials hope the clinic in Cape Coral will provide them with an alternative.

The House also passed a 2.8 percent cost-of-living increase for service connected disabled veterans and their families. This bill and HR 6832 have been forwarded to the U.S. Senate for that body’s consideration.

“I urge the Senate to pass this bill without delay so we can continue working to complete this vital project,” said Mack in a prepared statement.