Support grows for VA clinic

Published 10:33 am Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Nobody dislikes the idea of a community-based outpatient clinic in Austin for America’s veterans.

The Mower County Board of Commissioners went on record supporting the proposal and so did the Austin City Council.

The man who speaks for all veterans in Mower County, Norman Hecimovich, voiced his unequivocal support.

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“I feel that it is our (veterans) responsibility to see that ‘all veterans have access to the closest and best medical facilities available,” the veterans’ advocate said. “Not only will veterans in this area be closer to a veterans clinic, they will not need to ride four hours to have the prescriptions renewed, have X-rays, blood sample reviewed.

“Plus if counseling can be arranged veterans won’t have go to the Minneapolis VA for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder counseling,” Hecimovich added. “Plus, we hope that we will have a VA Suicide Hotline available to meet veterans’ immediate needs,” he said.

On the last topic, Hecimovich, a decorate veterans of multiple wars and conflicts in our nation’s history, gets upset.

“When I read in the paper that we lost more soldiers in Iraq last month to suicide then we did to military action,” the last point comes through loud and clear to Hecimovich.

“I am a very strong believer that all VA clinics receive special training to meet the safety requirements for all veterans and that all medical centers ensure VA staff follow the highest standards for patient safety,” he said. “We don’t want any veterans to be at risk because of distance and unsafe practices,” he concluded.

Another strong advocate for veterans’ rights and services is James Goudy, past-commander of the Austin American Legion and a Vietnam War veteran.

“Austin would be a great place for a Veterans clinic,” Goudy said. “It is located along I 90, and there are many veterans in this area.”

“The only problem is that there’s one in Rochester,” he added.

But the veteran is worried “politics” may take over.

“I don’t understand the logic used to locate clinics,” he admitted. “It could be political. In that case we deserve one.”

31 clinics,

two in Minn.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs plans to open 31 new community-based veterans outpatient clinics in the nation: Two will be located in Minnesota.

One is planned for the northwest Twin Cities Metro area, and the other near the south-central border to Iowa.

The announcement set off a flurry of activity in such cities as Austin, Rochester, Owatonna and Albert Lea, each vying for the community-based clinic.

County boards and city councils, as well as veterans organizations in the region, are all petitioning the VA for attention.

Some cities/counties are offering incentives to locate the clinic in their backyard.

After the Mower County Board of Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution endorsing locating a clinic in Austin, the Austin City Council went to work.

By a unanimous 7-0 vote Feb. 2, the ACC approved a resolution welcoming the clinic here and telling the Department of Veterans Affairs why that should be done.

After pin-pointing Austin’s location in the VA’s preferred “south central border” area, the resolution pointed out Mower County has 4,382 veterans. Currently, 757 veterans are transported elsewhere to hospitals and clinics for medical care.

The Council Members vowed to work “cooperatively with state and local Veterans Affairs officials, Mower County officials and the local medical community to successfully to develop and maintain a community-based outpatient clinic in Austin.”

Then, the city sent the Council’s resolution to Minnesota’s U.S. Senate and Congressional delegations, local legislators, the state of Minnesota’s VA Medical Center director, network directors and medical center spokesperson, as well as local veterans service organizations: 26 potential advocates for an Austin-based clinic in all.

Wayne Madson, Mower County veterans service officer, is another true-believer in the idea.

“It would mean a great deal for us to get a clinic here in Austin,” Madson said. “They (the VA) have not made any decision yet. They will do a feasibility study.”

“Different counties are offering different things to attract a clinic to their locations,” Madson added.

The county’s VSO thinks Austin has two assets that should not go ignored. The first is the Hormel Institute medical research facility.

“We already have some of the best research scientists in the world working at the Institute researching cancer. Think what that could mean to any VA out-patient clinic here,” he said.

The second asset is Austin’s location: 11 miles from Lyle and the Minnesota-Iowa stateline.

“What they’re looking at to expand this VA network of clinics is to be able to draw a circle to see how they can best serve all the veterans within a 45-mile radius,” Madson said. “Anyone located inside that circle, the VA feels would be adequately served by an out-patient clinic located somewhere in the middle.”

Madson has done his homework to make the case for locating a clinic in Austin: He has drawn a map with Austin in the middle.

Madson’s map shows an area stretching north to Faribault, east to Fountain in Fillmore County and west to Wells in Faribault County.

Inside the circle are such cities as Faribault, Rochester, Albert Lea and Owatonna in Minnesota.

Perhaps, equally important is the fact the bottom of Madson’s circle stretches into portions of Winnebago, Worth and Mitchell counties in northern Iowa.

“That could play a major part of locating it in Austin, too,” Madson said.

According to James Hurm, Austin’s city administrator, a working group of advocates for locating the clinic in Austin is meeting regularly to assess how best to “sell” Austin to the VA as the most viable location for a new community-based outpatient clinic.

The “wild card” in the selection process could be that well-known nemesis of right decisions.

“In the beginning, they said they wanted to locate a clinic in south central Minnesota,” Madson said. “I don’t know if we are considered in south central or southeastern Minnesota, but in the end it may be how the politicians decide to do this.”