Mobile’s new VA clinic is long overdue

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 24, 2016

By Rep. Bradley Byrne

I had long heard the complaints about the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) clinic in Mobile. Whether it was at town hall meetings, Memorial Day events or while shopping at the grocery store, veterans always shared their concerns about the Mobile VA outpatient clinic.

The Mobile VA clinic is critically important. Southwest Alabama is home to over 50,000 veterans, and our area takes great pride and patriotism in supporting our veterans. It has always been a shame the VA clinic did not live up to the same high standard.

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Our area has seen growth over the last few years, and this has only made the problems worse. The clinic doesn’t just serve veterans from Mobile. Veterans from the surrounding counties use our out patient clinic.

Soon after being elected to Congress, I paid a visit to the clinic myself and quickly realized the facility was outdated and far too small. The facility lacked many of the basic resources that you would expect from a modern-day VA clinic.

I started to ask questions about the status of a new VA clinic in Mobile. It turned out that my predecessor, Rep. Jo Bonner, was able to secure funding for a new VA clinic before he left Congress, but the project had stalled out. Bureaucratic delays and red tape stood in the way.

This just simply wasn’t acceptable. Our veterans deserved better.

I held a meeting in Washington and Biloxi with relevant VA officials. Then, I sent a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald demanding an update on a new Mobile VA clinic. My staff and I kept the foot on the gas and continued demanding updates and answers from the VA.

Finally, the perseverance of my team and other local officials paid off. A few weeks ago, my office was notified that Mobile would finally be getting a new VA clinic.

The new clinic will be located in a convenient location in Tillman’s Corner, right off of Interstate 10. The clinic will be over 65,000 square feet, which is a major improvement over the current facility’s 35,000 square feet.

The new clinic will provide space for primary care, audiology and speech pathology, education, eye clinics, mental health, patient advocacy, radiology, Veterans’ Service Organizations and women’s health. The new, updated clinic will certainly provide better care to our veterans.

While the new clinic is music to the ears of our local veterans, I also understand that a new clinic alone will not solve all the problems at the VA. The VA has much larger and deeper issues that a new clinic simply cannot solve.

The VA bureaucracy is too big and fosters a culture of complacency. Too many VA officials are allowed to continue underperforming because of the lack of accountability.

This is why I will continue to be a forceful advocate in Congress for increasing veteran access to private medical care. I believe every veteran should be able to seek medical care from doctors and hospitals in their local communities instead of having to receive care from VA facilities.

I will also keep pushing to improve accountability at the VA. If an employee is failing our veterans, they should be removed from their position, not promoted to a different role.

I am proud to represent the 50,000 veterans who call Southwest Alabama home. I am proud of the progress we have made on their behalf, but more challenges remain.

No matter how difficult this fight may be, I will not back down. Our veterans did not back down from serving us, and I won’t back down from fighting for them.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne represents the 1st Congressional District of Alabama, which includes Escambia County.