Veterans bill green lights SWLA veterans clinics - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Veterans bill green lights SWLA veterans clinics

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A bill that received overwhelming passage in the U.S. Senate Wednesday aims to reform the Veterans Administration. The legislation, which passed in the House on Tuesday, also promises to green light construction of two permanent veterans clinics in Southwest Louisiana.

In addition to a clinic in Lake Charles and Lafayette, the bill authorizes the construction of 25 others in 17 states.

While it's good news to local vets, they said they are not holding their breath.

"We appreciate the passage of the bill and the work that went into it, but we are frustrated with the VA," said Retired Colonel Jim Jackson, U.S. Army.

Jackson and other Southwest Louisiana veterans have been receiving treatment at a temporary mobile unit for more than two years. 

"We've been working on this clinic for more than 10 years and as you can see all we have is a bus," said Jackson. "The staff here is great. However, the facilities are not adequate. I don't see how they sustain themselves in such a bus. Half of the time, the water doesn't work. The other half of the time the A/C and heater doesn't work."

Jackson said the wait for treatment is even worse.

"I waited 18 months for an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon," said Jackson.

The new legislation would allow veterans to go to civilian doctors for the next two years if they live more than 40 miles from a VA treatment center or if they have been waiting more than 30 days for an appointment.

"It's going to cut down the wait times for veterans so they can get the services they need and the promises we made to them when they put on that uniform," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, (D) Louisiana.

Sen. Landrieu said she and the other members of the Louisiana delegation are doing what they can to expedite the timeline.

"We're moving forward to build the clinics and hopefully within the next 24 to 36 months they can be completed and potentially even shorter if the facilities are leased as opposed to built. And that's going to be worked out in the next few weeks," explained Landrieu.

While Jackson feels it's a step in the right direction, he said it's still a long way from where they should have already been.

"We're looking at over a year before they even let a contract and then depending on the building we are looking at another 18 months to two years before we move into one. The day I walk into and cut the tape on it is the day I believe we've got a veterans clinic," said Jackson.

In the short term, Jackson said he and the other veterans would like an interim facility until a permanent one can be opened. 

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