FLEMING ISLAND – Despite a large concentration of veterans and close proximity to military installations such as Naval Air Station Jacksonville and Camp Blanding Joint Training Station, Clay County …
FLEMING ISLAND – Despite a large concentration of veterans and close proximity to military installations such as Naval Air Station Jacksonville and Camp Blanding Joint Training Station, Clay County distinctly lacks a Department of Veterans Affairs’ clinic. However, if U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho (R-3) and county officials have their way, this could change soon.
On Feb. 9, Yoho spoke at the Clay County Chamber of Commerce, where he announced the federal government is currently accepting a new round of proposals to locate a VA clinic somewhere in Clay County.
“This is an incredible day as we are at the beginning of the first VA clinic in Clay County,” Yoho said. “Knowing the incredible need for our local vets, this was not a project that we were willing to give up on. I wanted to impress upon stakeholders the urgency in getting the entire community behind this project. We cannot let another opportunity slip away.”
This will mark the third set of proposals sought within two years to establish a VA clinic in Clay County. The previous two rounds failed because the VA did not receive any proposals. In the last two rounds, the proposals were initiated by Yoho but generally delegated to Clay County, according to Kat Cammack, Yoho’s deputy chief of staff. This time, however, Yoho is taking a more hands-on approach.
“In the past, we took the information [for the proposal process] and sent it directly to the county,” Cammack said. “This time we’ve taken a really strong position on helping to get the word out.”
Any individual with space to lease may submit a proposal, provided the space meets the requirements set by the VA. The community-based outpatient clinic would be the newest addition to the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System, joining the two locations in Gainesville and Lake City. There is also a VA clinic in Jacksonville.
The small crowd of attendees, which included representatives from Clay County, the Orange Park Town Council and the Florida Department of Veteran Services and veterans’ advocacy groups, met Yoho’s initial announcement with applause. However, the conversation soon turned towards the second obstacle in the clinic’s way – proving the need using solid data.
Cammack discussed the need for local veterans to register online with the VA’s portal so they can be considered “active.” The VA’s online portal MyHealtheVet is online at myhealth.va.gov. Over 23,000 veterans and approximately 8,000 retired veterans live in Clay County, according to the Clay County Department of Veterans Services. However, the VA only considers registered users, and currently there are only approximately 9,400 veterans in Clay County, according to numbers Yoho’s staff provided.
“We need active users,” Cammack said. “We could have 100,000 veterans in Clay County, but if we only have 4,000 active users, the [VA] is going to build clinics according to that [number.]”
Cammack said registered users need only to have a yearly examination in order to be considered “active.” However, the proposals are due on Feb. 26, which limits the time for veterans to register and be counted.
Up until now, red tape, budget issues and the lack of proposals for the clinic have been major obstacles. However, if everything goes according to plan, Clay County could have a VA clinic within 12 to 24 months, according to Yoho.
While Yoho has never served in the military, he still has a vested interest in veterans’ issues. His daughter, Katie Yoho, is currently enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard.
“I’ve seen so many veterans not treated properly by our government,” Yoho said. “I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for the willingness of veterans to serve this nation.”
The proposal form for the clinic’s location outlines several specifications for the space, which must be a pre-existing building of a maximum 19,999 square feet of Class A medical space. Other provisions include a requirement that the space must be on a single floor and have a minimum of 135 parking spots, with at least 14 handicapped spaces. Evidence that the property is outside of the 100-year flood plain is also necessary. No dollar amount was provided in the proposal request form.
As far as the actual location of the building goes, property within or adjacent to the following roads are being considered: Branan Field Road in the Middleburg-Oakleaf area, Bellamy Road and Treat Road in Keystone Heights, and Susan Drive in Green Cove Springs. Proposals and other comments of interest may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
While the process is still underway, county officials are holding out hope that this round of proposals will be successful.
“We have a very concentrated population of veterans,” said County Commissioner Diane Hutchings. “We’ve waited a long time to get this service. We’re excited about this, and we’re excited to be able to support our veterans.”