143 9 LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

Scandal centered on wait times has forced leaders across the country to take a deeper look at veterans health care.

In East Tennessee, VA administrators say a new clinic opening in Campbell County is an example of their efforts to improve access.

More: 100,000 veterans face long waits to see VA doctors

The new LaFollette clinic, a division of the James H. Quillen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, is the third new outpatient clinic to open this year in East Tennessee behind facilities in Roane and McMinn Counties.

The 4,000 square foot facility on Independence Lane in LaFollette has the capacity to serve 1,300 veterans.

"This is state of the art and that's what they deserve," said Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-District 3).

Previous: Duncan to VA: Convert old St Mary's to VA hospital

Previous: Harriman mayor offers solutions to long VA wait times

Access has always been a top complaint from veterans, he said.

Retired Army General and LaFollette native Carl Stiner experiences first hand the 100 mile drive to medical care.

"Many of these old veterans don't have a way to get there. They would have to pay a neighbor to drive them. So that was the need," Gen. Stiner said, "We all went to work on this. There was cooperation from the beginning and it was for a great cause."

After a meeting with veterans, including Gen. Stiner in November 2011, the ball started rolling to get the facility in LaFollette. Monday, he helped cut the ribbon of the outpatient clinic that will provide primary care and mental services.

Congressman Chuck Fleischmann says, while this is a victory, there's more work to do.

"The Veterans Administration by and large has dropped the ball," he said.

A government audit showed veterans at the Mountain Home VA Medical Center wait 67 days on average for an appointment. That's the 9th longest wait time in the country.

The medical center's director, Charlene Ehret, said veterans suffering from problems with vision and hearing are creating part of that backlog, but those who need immediate help are getting it.

"If you have cancer, or heart disease, or more urgent issues, you are seen right away," Ehret said.

Ehret also added none of their patients have died waiting for care in their facilities and the scandals in other parts of the country aren't happening here.

"We had no hidden wait lists, no manipulation of numbers that monitor our wait times," she said.

The clinic will start seeing patients next week. Patients must be currently enrolled at the Mountain Home VA Medical Center and can apply for a transfer. Veterans who have not enrolled may apply hereor call 1-888-736-2825.

143 9 LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: http://on.wbir.com/1i2PC6M