Veterans’ Health Matters
Kenneth D. Weiss, 9/20/16
Bang! Bang! The hammers rained on the wall behind the podium.
Health services for veterans were much in the news in recent years. The Veterans Administration was criticized for long delays and inadequate treatment, especially for mental health issues. Sparks flew. Officials were replaced.
At the same time, there was political activity to get approval for a new Veterans Affairs health clinic in Montgomery County, Maryland. Such a clinic would lessen the load on existing centers and reduce travel time for veterans, of whom there are about 44,000 in the county. After eight years of effort led by Congressman Chris Van Hollen and others, an 11,600 square foot facility is moving forward and should be open by December, 2017. The clinic will be housed in an existing building at 15810 Gaither Drive near Gaithersburg, Maryland.
A patient entering the building will step into an examination room, and the nurses and doctors will go to him or her. Other rooms will be dedicated to hearing, vision, and mental health. There will be a laboratory, a pharmacy, and a telemedicine facility for consultation with specialists.
A ceremony was held on September 19th to mark the beginning of construction. Michael Subin of the Montgomery County Council served as Master of Ceremonies and speakers included Senator Ben Cardin, Congressman Chris Van Hollen, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, and veterans’ affairs staff members of the federal, state and county governments.
Brian Hawkins, Director of the VA Medical Center in Washington D.C., told of a female veteran whose suicide might have been prevented by a better prepared VA clinic. Senator Ben Cardin explained that the new facility would make it much easier for the people who protect us, in these dangerous times, to obtain health care. Congressman Van Hollen praised Montgomery County for housing the National Center for Veteran Institute for Procurement and being a leader in eliminating homelessness among veterans.
U.S. Senator John Sarbanes stated that only a quarter of the 44,000 veterans in Montgomery County used VA medical services and thought the new center would increase this number. It will never reach one hundred percent because some veterans have other health care options and some don’t want to crowd out those who might need the help more.
Joseph A. Williams, Acting Director of the Veterans Integrated Service network in the area, said there was an obligation to make health care convenient for former members of the armed services. George W. Owings III, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs, introduced people in charge of veterans’ cemeteries, a veterans home, the Departments of Services and Benefits and of Outreach and the Veterans Trust Fund. He asked how many people in the audience had served in the military. About half raised their hands.
Montgomery County Executive Isaiah Leggett spoke next. He said the new health center would be a proper way to thank veterans for their valuable service. Then he provided some levity by complaining that, while one speaker’s Navy connection was printed on the official program, his Army connection was not. This led to a lively round of Army/Navy comments.
Dan Bullis, Chairman of the Montgomery County Commission on Veterans Affairs and Deputy Director of Walter Reed Army Hospital, applauded plans for the new center to deal effectively with mental health issues. Then an award was presented to Mr. Leggett, who accepted it on behalf of all veterans.
As a grand finale, the assembled dignitaries donned hard hats and goggles, raised hammers, and pounded holes in a wall to start converting the building from its prior use to its future use. When the work is completed, in fifteen months or less, veterans in the surrounding area will find it much easier to obtain the kinds and quality of health care they need and deserve.