Fleischmann: VA clinic a go for Harriman

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Mayor can’t confirm congressman’s news

By Damon Lawrence

The city of Harriman’s failed effort to land a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital may have paid off in a consolation prize.

“We are going to have right here in Roane County a fully staffed veterans clinic, which will be in Harriman, and their due date is set to open up March 1,” U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann said Monday.

Fleischmann said he got the information from Juan A. Morales, director of the Veterans Affairs Tennessee Valley Healthcare System.

“He reassured me that the McMinn County clinic in Athens will be open, but he also let me know the very good news for the citizens of Roane County, for whom I’ve been fighting to get more of a presence from the Veterans Administration, that we will actually have a fully staffed clinic in Harriman,” Fleischmann said.

Harriman Mayor Chris Mason said he’s heard talk about a clinic, but nothing has been confirmed with him.

“It’s just rumor right now,” he said.

Mason said he spoke with Fleischmann this week and was told the clinic was coming.

“Nobody from the state level has talked to me at all about it,” Mason said. “I hope he’s right. I’ll take his word for it.”

Harriman wanted a veterans hospital to locate in the old Roane Medical Center, but that didn’t come to fruition.

The Department of Veterans Affairs said there was no justification for operating a veterans hospital in the city.

Mason said his city would take a clinic.

“The great thing would be a VA hospital, but obviously that won’t happen,” he said. “Another clinic here in Roane County sure would help.”

A VA outpatient clinic in Rockwood closed in 2012. That endeavor was lauded by officials when it was announced in March 2008, but the clinic was plagued with problems. It didn’t open until June 2010, more than two years after its announcement. The clinic had been open for barely three months when it closed in September 2010 over a contracting issue. It reopened a month later under a different contractor.

What was termed “a temporary and partial closure” was announced in July 2012.

“This temporary closure is due to a recent staffing shortage of medical providers, which has impacted their ability to adequately provide care to veterans,” the VA said in a press release.

Later that year veterans were told the clinic was closing.

“Maybe six months ago I had gone to Nashville and met with (Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs) Commissioner (Many-Bears) Grinder and just told her that we were interested in a clinic after the one closed in Rockwood,” Mason said. “He’s (Fleischmann) talked to some people that I haven’t, so I’m assuming he’s right and it’s coming.”

The clinic that closed in Rockwood was a contractor-run operation.

“The frailties of what happened in Rockwood, the horror stories that the veterans told us and the Veterans Administration, I think they’ve corrected those miscues,” Fleisch-mann said.

A spokesman for the Veterans Affairs Tennessee Valley Healthcare System didn’t respond to a question about a clinic coming to Harriman.

Fleischmann was adamant that the city will have a clinic, but said he didn’t know if it would be another contractor operation.

“I don’t know the nature of the clinic,” he said. “The director has assured me that it’s going to be a successful clinic.”