HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - The average United States veteran is 62 year old. Our veteran population is living longer, but many World War II veterans are dying every day. Medical help is on the way for veterans in the Huntsville area.
WHNT NEWS 19's Venton Blandin came across this information during one of his recent visits to the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Birmingham. He was floored having to travel 98 miles to get some specific help, even though 35,000 people work on a 38,000 acre base near Huntsville. He talked to someone in public relations at the hospital to ask why. The hospital spokesman told WHNT NEWS 19 construction is set to begin very soon on a brand new facility here at home.
"This is something we`ve been working on for several years," said VA Medical Center Spokesman Jeffrey Hester.
Hester allowed WHNT NEWS 19 to check out the artwork of Huntsville's new Veterans Affairs clinic. The VA awarded a construction contract two weeks ago. Veterans from Huntsville, Madison and Decatur now go to the VA Hospital in Birmingham for specialized care.
"When I started here 20 years ago, we had 20,000 veterans. We now have over 62,000 that we treat," added Hester.
The amount of veterans traveling from the Rocket City to the Magic City could make up its own battalion.
"That's why they are getting this larger clinic. When you add the numbers there at the Decatur, Madison and Huntsville clinic, you exceed well over 10,000," added Hester.
The new facility will go on a site between Butler High School and the Clearview Cancer Institute. It will measure 48,000 square feet and it will have room to grow.
The new facility won't have beds, so VA officials call it a clinic. The new clinic will have everything the current ones in the Huntsville area have, plus specialized care now found only in Birmingham.
"We wanted to get specialty care services up there to them, so they didn't have to get in the car every time they went to their primary care doctor who say you need to see a cardiologist. They had to get in a car, go to Birmingham, wait two months for an appointment or whatever," added Hester.
VA officials are working on a date to hold a breaking ground ceremony. It's likely to happen in the next month. Hester says construction crews could start moving dirt now.
WHNT NEWS 19 talked with a couple of veterans from Huntsville seeking medical care at the VA Hospital in Birmingham.
"You can`t get into the Huntsville clinic. It is too crowded. I have to catch a bus to come down starting at 8:00 am. Usually, I am returning around 5:00 pm.," said Shelby Baeder.
Baeder served in the U.S. Army. IT's a battle for him to travel to Birmingham she he needs specialized care.
"It is quite a job. Luckily, we are fortunate we do have access to that now. But, it would be so much better to have a facility there in Huntsville for us," added Baeder.
Walter Elrod served in the U.S. Air Force. He also struggles getting to Birmingham to see a doctor.
"I contact them ahead of schedule and get it scheduled for the shuttle from Huntsville. I catch it from Priceville High School because I live in Somerville," said Elrod.
The new VA clinic is set to open in September 2015.
"I've been looking forward to hearing news of this because it will cut down a two-hour trip to 20 minutes," added Elrod.