Hearing in D.C. yields few answers for local VA clinic | News

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Hearing in D.C. yields few answers for local VA clinic

ID=29364825WASHINGTON, D.C. -- One day after a subcommittee hearing in D.C. made the St. Augustine VA clinic the poster child for issues plaguing clinics around the nation, St. Johns County assistant administrator Jerry Cameron told First Coast News no real solution was reached on Capitol Hill.

"The VA has continually told them that they're working through these things and that they're going to get it fixed," said Cameron. "What came out in the hearing yesterday was that it's not fixed."

Cameron, representing St. Johns County in the whole debacle, testified at the hearing, telling the VA they passed up on opportunities to get the issue resolved over the last several years.

"The VA is so isolated, it not only has lost touch with those that it serves, but it's lost trust and accountability with the congress that created it," said Cameron. "It suffers from a policy sclerosis that denies its situational flexibility.

Following the hearing, Cameron met with lawmakers in D.C., including Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Ron DeSantis. A few short hours later, he flew back to St. Augustine to try and tackle the problem with other county officials.

"We've heard many, many excuses but never a real answer," said Cameron, calling their answers "inconclusive."

The VA accepted responsibility at the hearing and insisted the agency is working to fix the problems. They said the issues with the clinics were mainly found in the "pre-lease" period when design plans and requirements would often change, altering the projects altogether.

Bill Dudley, chairman for the St. Johns County Veterans Council, watched the hearing unfold from the Veterans Services Office. He said he agreed with everything Cameron had to say at the hearing.

"My reaction, after I settled down, was that I was witnessing a federal agency that was confessing before the general public that they had made many, many errors," said Dudley. "A lot of mistakes and, in fact, they were wasting a lot of taxpayers' dollars."

It's something Dudley said could have easily been avoided by joining forces with the Health and Human Services building in St. Johns County.

"The best deal for the county and the best deal for the taxpayers and the best deal for the VA is to accept the county's offer," said Dudley, "and our proposal and move into this location."

The VA is not only facing escalating fines for not moving in time from their current location, but they're also jeopardizing hundreds of jobs.

"Lowes cannot build on that facility that they entered into in good faith with the county, that contract cannot go through as planned right now because of the VA."

While Dudley and Cameron strategize over the next few weeks, Cameron has a timeline of his own. He said he's retiring in 49 days, in which time he plans to get the whole situation resolved.

"Absolutely. It's on my bucket list," said Cameron. "What this really does is give me an opportunity to serve people who have altered their lives to keep you and I safe."

The county commission originally offered to allow the VA clinic to move into the HHS building, but the VA administration never accepted the offer. Now they are still offering for the clinic to join their building, but in a separate area that they would build beside their offices.

In addition to offering the property as a possible solution, Dudley and Cameron both suggested the VA administration look into the Nocatee community as great area to move the clinic permanently. They said it's the third fastest growing community in the nation.


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