By Michael Isam
St. Augustine, Fla, (August 5, 2014) – According to Assistant County Administrator Jerry Cameron, the VA is asking St. Johns County to ”Hold in Reserve” the piece of property off Inman Road as they are exploring other options.
This is very same property on which the VA agreed, at least in principal, to place a temporary home for the Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) to insure uninterrupted service for the health needs of the county’s veterans.
St. Johns County is home to more than 20,000 veterans and a little more than 5,000 are patients at the current CBOC.
In the vernacular of veterans this is a case of ‘Different day, same stuff’.
The commissioners expressed exasperation that after nearly 3 years of talks with the VA, we are back to the original offer. “I know”, said Cameron. It just plain defies logic.”
“Today’s offer,” said Cameron, “if cleared by the commission, will essentially build the CBOC to the VA specifications and, as a carrot, offer to extend the current lease at the same level, thereby eliminating the need for the VA procurement division to be involved at all.” “We have,” he said, “Senator Rubio and Congressman DeSantis’ offices on board and ready to assist in whatever capacity needed.”
Kevin Wiseman, Project Manager for St. Johns County Construction Services said, “We can build it. We can have it completed and have the VA moved in ahead of the March 30, 2015 deadline. The main contractor has all the necessary subcontractors on site at the present time and they are primed and ready to move forward now.” “But,” said Wiseman, “and it is a giant but, the time window gets smaller with every passing day.”
Bill Dudley, chairman of the Veterans Council of St. Johns County speaking during the public comment period said, “I am completely perplexed by the stalling techniques the VA has instituted in this process.” “Many of our 5,000 plus veterans who receive care at the CBOC are elderly. There are a large number of phone calls everyday expressing concern about how they will be able to get health care.” “I have to fall back on the promise made by the VA staff in Gainesville and Washington that health care service for the veterans of St. Johns County WILL NOT BE INTERRUPTED.”
“Each veteran in St. Johns County,” said Dudley,” needs to be contacting the VA directly and lodging a complaint with the office of the new VA Secretary or contact the Office of the Inspector General.”
“I applaud the patience of the commissioners,” said Dudley, “and especially Mr. Cameron during this exhausting process.” Cameron thanked Dudley saying “It is my staffs work making me appear good.” “It is the staff of the various offices that deserve the lion’s share of credit in this entire process.” “They have performed a yeoman’s job”, he continued, “each and every time doing the research and putting together a comprehensive report to present. I applaud them.”
At the end of the public comment period, Commissioner Ron Sanchez immediately made a motion to move forward with the proposal to the VA. Chairman Jay Morris seconded. After some modifications offered by the County Administrator Legal offices, the motion passed 4-0. Commissioner Stevenson was unable to be at the meeting.
Does the VA really care? Who knows? The rate of movement within the VA bureaucracy is akin to the space exploration days when the carrier moving the shuttle travelled at a rate of one mile per hour, which is apparently faster.
[Disclosure: The author of this story is the current Commander of Florida DAV Chapter 6 who receives his medical treatment from the VA and is assigned to the St. Augustine CBOC.]