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Bulloch area veterans push for clinic

Group presents petition with more than 5,000 signatures to Rep. Barrow

    Members of local American Legion Post #90 gathered Tuesday afternoon at the Honey Bowen Building to present U.S. Representative John Barrow with signatures showing support for a local community based outpatient clinic for veterans.

            With more than 5,800 signatures from people in Bulloch County and 13 surrounding counties, letters from all 14 county commissions as well as notes from state politicians, Congressman Barrow was told the ball was now in his court.

            “[The petition] is necessary because it’s a wonderful thing to demonstrate the level of support to the Georgia state folks and the national folks who are in the business of lining up communities for the order in which these things are going to happen,” said Barrow. “A necessary but not sufficient thing. But it won’t happen without this level of support.”

            Ray Hendrix is the Georgia representative to the National Executive Committee for the American Foreign Legion and a member of local post #90 who organized the petition drive. He said he saw similar clinics going up around Georgia and thought that Bulloch County would make a good central location for Southeast Georgia.

            "I looked at it and this CARES commission was designed to locate areas that they could accumulate the most population, where people would not have to drive more than 60 miles to a clinic," said Hendrix. "We drew a 60-mile circle around Statesboro and came up with 33,000 plus veterans that could be served by the clinic."

            According to their website, CARES, the Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services, is a system-wide process to prepare the Veteran's Administration (VA) for meeting the current and future health care needs of veterans in modern health care facilities. The decision documents created by CARES serve as a compass for the VA's capital planning decisions, including which facilities are to be closed and which areas of the country are currently being underserved.

             Hendrix said a number of groups have come together to gather all the petitions including local Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, Kiwanis members, the state veterans service board and other veterans groups. He said he didn’t want to wait on Washington before taking action.

             “I decided not to wait on the CARES commission to voluntarily come down here and look. I decided to do my homework and start a petition,” said Hendrix. “I never asked anyone to sign that petition that refused to sign. Any county I went to I asked for a letter from the commission and they never refused me. It's astounding for that many county governments to come together.”

            The community-based outpatient clinic would provide care to veterans who are not retired military – a group currently served by military hospitals on bases. Barrow said nearly one in eight veterans go without any kind of healthcare.

            “[We have] 50,000 veterans who live in our little corner of the state. That’s 50,000 families that would benefit from having an outpatient clinic located in this district,” said Barrow. “When you consider how much national policy has pushed the delivery of health care for veterans into bigger places and fewer places that are farther apart -  to make people travel farther and wait longer to get any kind of care at all – reversing that trend and trying to bring health care to where veterans live is an important national priority.”

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