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Senate passes fed bill funding new VA clinic in Cape; Sets aside $131 million

By Staff | Oct 2, 2008

A federal bill that authorizes $131 million in funding for a new VA outpatient clinic in Cape Coral passed the Senate Tuesday night.

The U.S. House of Representatives originally passed the Veteran’s Programs Extension and Construction Authorization’s Act in early September. Afterward, U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fort Myers, urged the Senate to pass the bill so that construction on the 200,000-square-foot-facility could begin on Diplomat Parkway and Corbett Road.

Late Tuesday night the Senate passed the bill with unanimous consent, meaning that no recorded vote was taken and senators had no objections to the bill’s language. The bills in both houses were described as having the same language.

“I’m very pleased that the Senate has acted on this important funding authorization bill,” said Mack. “This new VA outpatient clinic is a critical project for Cape Coral and the rest of Southwest Florida.”

A new clinic would assist the aging veteran population in Southwest Florida. The existing clinic on Winkler Avenue in Fort Myers serves some 28,000 veterans, but overall there are 202,000 veterans across the region.

The proposed veteran’s clinic in Cape Coral is designed to be a multi-specialty center that features some services not available in Fort Myers such as advanced imaging, nuclear medicine, a vascular Doppler ultrasound and minor surgical procedures.

Currently, the nearest veteran’s center is in St. Petersburg, Fla., requiring local veterans to travel north in order to receive services not available locally.

“For too long, many veterans in Lee and Collier county have had to drive to St. Petersburg for specialty care,” said Mack. “This new clinic in Cape Coral will offer more health services and help to meet the needs of Southwest Florida’s growing veteran population.”

Now that the Senate has passed the bill it falls to President George Bush to sign it into law. Mack’s office is confident that the president will act on the bill.

“The fact that it passed the Senate is great news because now it goes to President Bush, who is likely to sign it into law,” said Stephanie Dubois, spokesperson for the Mack office.

Even if Bush signs the bill into law, Dubois explained that a separate appropriations bill will have to be passed so that the funding can be released. The expectation is that the $131 million will be appropriated in the Military, Construction and Veteran Affairs Appropriations Bill.

Besides authorizing $131 million for the new veteran’s clinic, the bill also authorizes funding for a number of veteran medical centers across the United States, including VA Medical Center in Orlando worth $656 million.

The parent hospital for local veteran clinics, Bay Pines VA Health System in St. Petersburg, stated that the construction is expected to conclude by 2011.

In the meantime the project is in the design phase until the money is appropriated.

“I will continue to fight for this vital funding so that we can quickly complete this crucial project. Southwest Florida’s veterans deserve nothing less,” said Mack.