This mobile clinic, located off Fifth Avenue, services veterans in Southwest Louisiana, which has some 40,000 former service members residing in it. (American Press Archives)
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 11, 2013 6:47 PM
CBS news representatives visited Lake Charles last week as part of their investigation into why the federal government has been slow to finance construction of veterans clinics at 15 different locations around the country.
One of the community clinics was scheduled to be built in Lake Charles.
Charles Robertson, owner of Divine Connection Enterprise, was selected last year by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to lease, build and manage a 24,000-square-foot medical facility at 3601 Gerstner Memorial Drive.
Months later, federal officials informed Robertson the project was cancelled.
CBS interviewed Robertson last week to get his perspective on the problem.
“They are trying to bring to light the disservice shown to the veterans of Southwest Louisiana,” Robertson told the American Press. “They are going to show how close we were to building a facility. But something happened.”
Robertson recalls the project being “shovel ready” with funding, contracts and architectural designs completed. All that was left was certain permitting regulations.
The latest hurdle to a veterans clinic being opened in Lake Charles developed after the Congressional Budget Office decided the VA would have to pay 20 years of leases up front for the 15 clinics that were supposed to be built around the nation. It is estimated that the cost would be in the billions of dollars. The Lake Charles lease was $1 million per year.
Along with Lake Charles, another community clinic planned in Lafayette.
“Congressional action can override the CBO but the politicians don’t have the political will to do that,” Robertson said. “The vets are like sacrificial lambs.”
CBS recorded video of the mobile clinic — which is located off Fifth Avenue — that now services veterans.
Local veterans advocates estimate that the region has 40,000 former service members residing in it.
Those numbers are expected to increase as more veterans from military theaters in Iraq and Afghanistan come home.
“They are going to need treatment, limbs, counseling, a pharmacy, and physical therapy. We also have to serve the female service members who fought for their country,” Robertson said. “None of them deserve this. They deserve first-class service. And, yes, vets are frustrated and emotional about this issue.”
Robertson said the network’s investigation is ongoing and a story should be broadcast in upcoming weeks.