Ground broken on medical facility for veterans

Feb. 07, 2014 @ 10:38 PM

Local officials were joined by U.S. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) on Friday to officially break ground for a new clinic in Sanford for military veterans, which should open its doors about a year from now.

Located at 1248 Broadway Road — between Sanford and Broadway on Highway 42, next to the U.S. 421 bypass exit — the clinic will be 10,000 square feet of energy-efficient and environmentally friendly primary care facilities operated by the Department of Veteran Affairs and, specifically, the Veterans’ Health Administration.

“We have been mindful that the Sanford area has been in need (of a nearby outpatient clinic),” said Betty Goolsby, director of the VA hospital in Fayetteville. “... By this time next year, I expect we will have a ribbon-cutting and see you veterans again.”

Nearly 100 people attended the ceremony Friday afternoon, ranging from military veterans to military widows, politicians, business leaders and others.

Burr was the only member of the federal Congressional delegation for this area present on Friday — his fellow senator, Kay Hagan, sent a representative to read a letter, as did Rep. Renee Ellmers — but he’s also perhaps the one who’s most qualified to speak about veterans and veterans’ health issues.

He’s the top Republican on the Senate’s Veterans Affairs Committee and the top Republican on a separate committee’s subcommittee on health and aging. He also serves on the Senate’s intelligence and finance committees.

Burr said he’s glad to see clinics like the one in Sanford, where currently the closest VA centers are an hour’s drive away in either Fayetteville or Durham. In his time on the Veterans Affairs Committee, he said, he has learned transportation is one of the biggest obstacles to veterans receiving quality health care — a problem he said this clinic will solve for about 7,000 veterans living in Lee County and western Harnett County.

It’s also important, Burr said, to note this clinic will relieve overcrowding in the Fayetteville and Durham hospitals.

Goolsby thanked him, Ellmers and Hagan for consistent support and for never turning veterans issues into a political squabble. She also thanked them for helping appropriate funding for this clinic and others across the state.

There were two community outpatient clinics in North Carolina in 2000, said Don Hoffman, the regional VA director for North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. Once the Sanford one is built, there will be 17. The region he covers was the fastest-growing area for veterans in the country for the past 10 years and is expected to remain the fastest-growing for the next 10 years, Hoffman said. So adding community clinics such as this has been a key goal.

“We have concluded an integrated network that will put almost every veteran in the state of North Carolina within a one-hour drive of a VA center,” he said, noting that Sanford is the final link in that chain.

Area officials attending the event included state Rep. Mike Stone and Broadway Mayor Donald Andrews.

Kirk Smith, vice chairman of the Lee County Board of Commissioners and an Army veteran himself, spoke on behalf of the county. He said about half the veterans in Lee County are older, having served in Vietnam, Korea or World War II. He thanked everyone who had a hand in making the clinic a reality, saying there’s “no doubt this outpatient clinic ... will reduce travel time, thus improving quality of life.”

Speaking on behalf of the city, Sanford City Councilman and Mayor Pro-Tem J.D. Williams said, “This is just the beginning of advancing the City of Sanford ahead.”