The same breeze that offered some relief from the nearly 100-degree heat assisted Mary Hendrix and U.S. Rep. Rick Allen in unveiling a temporary sign for the newly renamed Ray Hendrix Department of Veterans Affairs Clinic.
With House Resolution 3946, the whole U.S. Congress in effect agreed that the clinic, on Northside Drive East in Statesboro, wouldn’t be there without the efforts of Mrs. Hendrix’s late husband, Sgt. Maj. Robert Ray Hendrix. Allen, R-Georgia 12th, introduced the legislation in October 2017 with all 13 of Georgia’s other U.S. representatives as co-sponsors.
It was passed in the House on a voice vote in May 2018. The Senate approved an amended version by unanimous consent Nov. 27. The House accepted the Senate version, also by unanimous consent, Dec. 10, and President Donald Trump signed the renaming legislation into law Dec. 14.
“I have no doubt that the Ray Hendrix name and legacy will live on for generations to come with the quality care that this clinic will continue to provide to our nation’s bravest,” Allen said during the ceremony Thursday afternoon.
The clinic, which opened in March 2013, is one of three community-based outpatient clinics of the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta. The other clinics are in Athens, Georgia, and Aiken, South Carolina.
Allen noted that his office has received some “cases,” meaning constituents’ issues with service, regarding the main hospital and clinics in Augusta and the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin.
“I don’t think we have a single case from the Ray Hendrix VA medical facility,” he said, laughing a little and adding that it “may be the example” for a how to provide veterans the best care.
At first the Statesboro clinic was a telehealth clinic, where veterans were seen by a nurse in-person but by a doctor only on a two-way video and audio connection. It was later upgraded to a regular clinic with a full-time doctor on site, as Robin E. Jackson, Ph.D., the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center’s director and CEO, noted during the ceremony.
He also said that the medical center will begin looking for a larger building for the clinic.
“It has transcended now into a full community health (clinic), and I am happy to say we are working hard to expand the footprint of this facility because the number of veterans who come for services have outgrown the footprint size,” Jackson said.
The clinic now has about 1,500 veterans enrolled as patients, Jackson said after the ceremony, when he checked with a staff member. It has been serving 20 patients a day, but with a nurse practitioner on staff and a new doctor just signed up to replace one who retired, it will be able to serve 40 a day, Jackson said.
As the end of 2019 approaches, officials will be looking for “a new building or build process,” hoping to expand primary care and mental health services to more veterans, he said.
Family and friends
Not all of the 150 or more people who gathered for the ceremony fit under the tent.
Four rows of chairs were set aside for relatives. Mary and Ray Hendrix’s daughters, Diane Long and Jennifer Kimbrell, and son, Mike Hendrix, all attended.
“This is a fantastic day for us, and for Mom,” Mike Hendrix said, in his brief remarks thanking everyone involved.
The Hendrixes now have 11 grandchildren and 12 great-grands and one on the way. Some of Ray Hendrix’s siblings also attended.
Members of American Legion Dexter Allen Post 90, Statesboro, were seated near the family. A Vietnam Veterans Color Guard from Glennville formally posted the flags up front before the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance, and Patriot Guard Riders flanked the ceremony, standing silently at attention with more U.S. flags.
A portrait of Ray Hendrix in a red American Legion cap faced the crowd. A native of Bulloch County, he served 42 years in the Army and National Guard, with command sergeant major his highest rank. Meanwhile, he became an official advocate for veterans at the state and national levels.
“I came to know and respect Mr. Hendrix during his time on the Veterans Service Board,” said Mike Roby, who heads the Georgia Department of Veterans Services. “I saw firsthand his commitment to improving the lives of not only veterans herein Statesboro, but across the state of Georgia.”
After joining while still in the National Guard, Hendrix was active for 60 years in the American Legion, the century-old veterans’ organization. He served as commander of Dexter Allen Post 90 and rose to be a district and state commander. Elected as an American Legion National Executive Committee member, Hendrix represented Georgia on the national board for 10 years.
“He is the only person in Georgia history to be nominated and honored as a Legionnaire of the Decade,” Jackson noted.
Meanwhile, first appointed by Gov. Roy Barnes to the State Veterans Service Board, Hendrix continued to serve on it more than 20 years, until his death in September 2015 at age 83.
Working with other American Legion volunteers, he also helped organize regular van transportation for Statesboro-area veterans to the VA medical centers in Augusta and Dublin. At the time, those were the only locations for veterans here to be treated, free of charge, by doctors and nurses in the VA system.
So Hendrix, more than a dozen years ago, started a drive to bring a VA clinic to Statesboro. As Allen noted in his remarks Thursday, then-U.S. Rep John Barrow, the Democrat who represented the 12th District before him, carried the campaign for the clinic to Washington. A Dec. 22, 2007, Statesboro Herald story noted that Barrow had received more than 5,800 veterans’ signatures in the petition effort Hendrix led.
“His steadfast determination to bring a VA clinic to Statesboro stands out among his many achievements,” Roby said. “He firmly believed that all veterans had a right to world-class health care close to home.”