84ºF

New, temporary St. Augustine VA Clinic opens

St. Johns County Veterans Council, VA still at odds over permanent facility

photo

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Veterans in St. Johns County finally have a new VA Clinic, but it's only temporary while the Department of Veterans Affairs is looking for a permanent home.

The location of the clinic has been an issue over the past few years, ever since the land the original facility was on was sold to Lowe's. The company planned an April move onto the property, but because the VA didn't have a new facility, it was forced to pay thousands of dollars in late fees until it found a temporary home off U.S. 1 just south of State Road 312 -- about one block from the previous location. It opened its doors Monday.

The head of the St. Johns County Veterans Council remains frustrated that the VA is dragging it's feet on finding a permanent home.

"Let me put it this way; The relationship is better today than it was three to four months ago," said council chairman Bill Dudley. "There was no confidence in the leadership in Gainesville. The transparency, if you will, in the leadership there in Gainesville, it was just not there. They were not communicating. They weren't communicating with the county, they were not communicating with the veterans council."

The county's veterans council said it would like to see the permanent facility in a more centralized location.

Dudley said communication between the council and the VA basically about where a permanent facility would go had come to a standstill. The county hoped the VA would put the clinic next to its new Health and Human Services offices north of the city, but the VA said it wasn't an option, so it opened the temporary facility while continuing to look for a permanent location. 

After sending a petition to state lawmakers, Dudley says things began to change quickly, throwing out any bids the VA had received for a permanent location and starting fresh. Dudley says the county was able to put in its bid – which is two parts – either offering to build the entire facility adjacent to the Health and Human Services building or making the land available to the VA – thus opening the door to other contractors to build the facility. Dudley said the location really makes sense.

"No. 1, it's more to the center point, if you will, for the demographics of the county, but secondly, it co-locates, if you will, with our Veterans Service Office, which we have enjoyed for over 10 years here."