Proposed legislation calls for permanent VA clinic in Lake Charles

By By Lance Traweek / American Press

A permanent Veterans Affairs clinic in Lake Charles is among the more than a dozen VA facilities that would gain authorization

in a bill proposed by two Louisiana lawmakers Thursday.

The legislation — called the Keep Our Commitment to Veterans Act — includes clinics in Lafayette and 13 areas elsewhere in

the country. It would authorize the two Louisiana clinics for fiscal years 2013 and 2014.

The measure was proposed by U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., R-Lafayette, and U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. Sen. David Vitter,

R-La., is among the co-sponsors.

Officials have said 6,000 veterans would likely enroll in VA health care if Lake Charles were to get a permanent clinic. The

city now has a mobile clinic.

“The veterans in South Louisiana have faced continued delays and problems with clinics in Lake Charles and Lafayette, and

the latest issue is now with the leases for these clinics,” Landrieu said in a news release.

“The method of authorizing leases

should not stand in the way of our veterans receiving the high-quality

health care they

deserve after sacrificing to protect our nation. This legislation

will authorize these clinics, an important step in our continued

work to provide for our veterans.”

James Jackson, vice commander of the

American Legion in Lake Charles, returned from Washington, D.C., on

Wednesday after several

days of meeting with members of the state’s congressional

delegation about issues with the VA. He said Thursday that the

legislation

is “the only answer to the problem.”

A Landrieu staffer told the American Press the legislation has strong bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

The staffer said the VA had made serious mistakes during the failed procurement process for clinics, but that the agency has

taken responsibility. The current issue, the staffer said, isn’t the VA, but the leasing process.

Neal Patel, a Boustany spokesman said, the congressman wants “to receive an explicit decision from House and Senate leadership

on whether Congress will authorize promised new VA clinics or simply blame the (Congressional Budget Office) and the VA or

try to change the subject.”

“I’m glad veterans’ groups have made this issue a priority in nationwide grassroots calls to action,” Patel said. “Otherwise,

the VA warns we’ll face clinic closures as some existing leases expire. That is unacceptable.”

He said the VA “dropped the ball” and

put Lake Charles and Lafayette in this situation by not requesting

authorization for

the clinics two years ago. He said they received bids that

exceeded the million-dollar requirement for congressional approval

and failed to act due to incompetence.

“Making matters worse, they continue to turn Lake Charles vets away from their temporary mobile clinic,” Patel said. “Local

vets warn the VA has reached the cap on (veterans) it will treat in the Lake Charles area.”