LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - It's a red letter day for local veterans: dedication of the new outpatient clinic that will cut down on travel for veterans in need of medical care.
Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Thomas Bowman from Washington, D.C. admits it's been a long road.
"You all have had an experience here for the last ten, twelve years, a struggle at times, a challenge at times in having this clinic finally appear," said Bowman. "You shouldn't have had to wait that long, but you did. You were patient."
But he says it's state of the art.
"It's probably the most modern facility I have had the opportunity to see," said Bowman.
And Bowman says he looks for good things to happen out of Washington.
"There will be legislation this year that will enhance change and move care in the community to another level. I can't tell you exactly what it's going to look like, but it's going to happen before the end of the year, because it has to happen. Congress knows it. The president wants it," he said.
There were many who helped along the way.
"It's the least that we can do to honor your service and your sacrifice to us. We thank you and we hope that at least this facility can be a reminder of how we feel and how we value and appreciate your service and dedication to our country," said former mayor Randy Roach.
And not all were patient, like Colonel Jim Jackson, who's been an outspoken critic of the VA. But he's pleased there will be new local VA services such as mental health.
"Twenty-two veterans a day are committing suicide out there. That's got to stop," said Jackson.
Though he says the struggle will always continue, right now he says staffing is a concern.
"Now let's work on staffing the clinic where we can treat the veterans the way they say they're going to. Right now we're short about one-third the staff in this clinic," Jackson said.
VA officials say they are filling positions as quickly as possible and that some hired are not available immediately.
Still, the veterans are grateful for a state-of-the-art facility that will provide closer access to health care.
"It means that people like me don't have to continuously travel to Beaumont and Houston for our care. We'll have to make a trip to Houston occasionally for some real specialty care, but most of our care can be done right here in Lake Charles, which is five minutes away, which is awesome," said Vietnam veteran Al Cochran.
World War II veteran Alton Baker is also pleased with the facility.
"I come and have a check-up every six months. It's wonderful. Been needing it a long time," he said.
The facility here provides 24,088 square feet to serve the medical needs of veterans.