Mayor in D.C. to pitch VA proposal

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By Cindy Simpson

Harriman Mayor Chris Mason is scheduled to be in Washington D.C., today (Monday) to present a proposal to locate a Veterans Hospital in Harriman.

It will be the first chance to officially take the city’s proposal directly to Veterans Affairs.

Mason plans to offer the present Roane Medical Center building to the VA for $1-a-year lease when the hospital moves from the downtown Harriman facility to its new campus in the Midtown area.

“For the local economy it is a ‘no brainer’ as to what it could do for us, but more importantly, it will take a tremendous burden off of our vets that are driving sometimes up to 2.5 hours one way to reach the closest hospital,” Mason wrote in an email.

“To offer this is the least we can do for them.”

A veterans hospital in Harriman, Mason said, “will help fill  in a gap in service for a 12-county area, including Knox County.”

He said U.S. Census data shows that particular area includes 84,000 veterans, and the hospital would be centrally located between the two closest hospitals to Roane County.

Those hospitals, in Murfreesboro and Johnson City, are roughly each a five-hour round trip to travel for many area veterans.

Mason said he will be meeting with several people from the VA for an hour to “let them know first-hand about the offer that the city of Harriman has on the table.”

Mason said he doesn’t think officials with the VA know the full potential of the offer.

“The condition of the building is great,” Mason said. He said Covenant Health is moving Roane Medical Center to Midtown because of location, not because of the building’s condition.

He hopes that at the least his visit will help lead to one thing.

“That is my ultimate goal is to get them to come down and look at what we are offering. I know they will like it if they come,” Mason said.

Many people have jumped in to support the proposal, with an initial meeting of veterans overflowing the Harriman High School auditorium and petitions filling up.

During a visit from Jeff Miller, chairman of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs committee, a large crowd gathered for a public meeting in Kingston.