Veterans Council Hosts Forum on Outpatient Clinic
By Michael Isam
St. Augustine, Fla, (June 26, 2014) – The future of the VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) and the 5,000 patients it serves was the topic of the forum Thursday night. A packed house met at Elks Lodge 829 to listen and learn.
“We are not now, or ever, closing the CBOC in St. Johns County,” began the presentation of Nick Ross, Assistant Director for Outpatient Clinics for the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System in Gainesville. Ross is a 30-year Navy veteran who described himself as an “absolute advocate for veterans.” “Under no circumstances will VA services be interrupted to veterans in the St. Augustine area,” he continued.
“Do we know where exactly we are going?” said Ross, “No, but we know the general area.” Ross produced a map indicating the general area under consideration showing a north boundary of Anderson Street, a south boundary of the current CBOC location near SR207 on Old Moultrie Road.
Ross also presented a floor plan and blueprints for the new facility.
“We will not know anything until all the Requests For Proposal (RFP) have been submitted, reviewed by the VA in Washington and finally a selection of the company to perform the construction,” said Ross. “The deadline for RFP’s is close of business tomorrow (Friday). The earliest we will know will be sometime in August.”
“We had everything ready to go seven months ago,” said Ross. “Due to a disagreement between two government entities all CBOC plans were placed on hold.”
Ross continued to be questioned by members of the audience for nearly 40 minutes. In the audience was Ron Sanchez, the sitting Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners. He was joined by former commissioners Ray Quinn, Ken Bryan, and John Reardon, all veterans. They were joined by almost all of the 20 plus veteran organizations in St. Johns County and Randy Stapleford, Military and Veterans Affairs aide for Congressman DeSantis, Florida District 6.
When queried about how the VA will manage to stay in its current location, given the $53,000.00 plus monthly fine, and who will pay the fines, Ross issued a rogue statement of “We are the U.S. Government.” The silence following that statement was deafening.
Bill Dudley, Chairman of the Veterans Council of St. Johns County called an end to Ross’ presentation and introduced Assistant County Administrator Jerry Cameron to present the county’s’ side of the forum.
Cameron began with the statement “I am not sure about what I heard just moments before. The statement sounded like the VA will use the right of “eminent domain”, if needed, to escape paying the penalties or being forced out of the current location after the deadline.” “Somebody will have to pay the penalties to Lowe’s and the only other name on the list is St. Johns County.” “This is unacceptable.”
Cameron went on to reference some of the interchanges between his office, the office of Mary Ann Blount, Director of Land Management Systems for St. Johns County and various VA departments beginning November 1, 2011.
“We never dreamed the VA would not come with us,” said Cameron. “We included a place for them in our plan in the new location of the offices of the county Health and Human Services department along with offices for the County Veteran Services Office.” Cameron continued, “It only made sense to put everything together where everyone, the general public and veterans, could get the services they need in one area and not have to travel to multiple locations for services.”
“We offered them the same sized space for the same price they currently pay,” Cameron continued. “With all that has transpired since 2011, some may think this is a personal attack on Mr. Ross,” said Cameron, “but I assure you it is not. I have the utmost respect for him as I know his job is not made easier by the bureaucracy he works within.”
“We, the county, care very much about our 20,500 veterans in St. Johns County and we want them to have the care they need,” said Cameron. “Given the current circumstances, we are not convinced that our veterans will experience uninterrupted care at the CBOC, despite assurances by Mr. Ross.” “Even at this stage, creating and moving into a temporary location will not negate the March 30, 2015 deadline.” Ross agreed with Cameron on this issue. When asked the approximate cost of a temporary home, Ross replied “Probably in the neighborhood of $1.5 million.” There are rules that must be followed for any structure regardless of the duration.”
Chairman Dudley called for an adjournment at 9:00 p.m. Thanking the two presenters, Dudley said, “Although it was an informative meeting, there appears to be more questions needing answers. He called upon Stapleford, to pass information to Congressman DeSantis and set a date for the meeting of the Veteran’s Group for earlier than planned.
[Disclosure: The author of this story is the current Commander of DAV Chapter 6 who receives his medical treatment from the VA and is assigned to the St. Augustine CBOC.]