published Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

New Chattanooga VA clinic would cut veterans' wait times

ABOUT CHATTANOOGA'S VA CLINIC

The Chattanooga Community Based Outpatient Clinic opened in 1985. It currently treats veterans in 21 counties in Tennessee, North Georgia and Northwest Alabama. The clinic provides primary care, mental health, pharmacy, dental laboratory and audiology services. In 2006, it opened an additional 10,000-square-foot imaging center to provide CT scans, X-ray, ultrasound and bone density scans.

Source: Tennessee Valley Healthcare System

  • photo
    If approved, a deal in Congress could double the size of the Chattanooga Veterans Affairs Clinic at 6098 Debra Road.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
    enlarge photo

Chattanooga's VA clinic would more than double in size under a bipartisan agreement reached in Congress this week — a move expected to help alleviate long waits and cut down on travel for veterans across the Tennessee Valley.

Chattanooga's current 40,000-square-foot outpatient clinic, near Eastgate Town Center, will expand to 100,000 square feet and will offer more specialist care -- including optometry, ophthalmology, radiology, orthopedics and podiatry -- under a $17 billion congressional proposal to hire more doctors and nurses and lease 27 new clinics to treat veterans.

The deal would have to be approved by the full House and Senate and signed by President Barack Obama.

It comes after months of public outcry over long wait times for veterans seeking care at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs clinics and hospitals. A recent VA audit found that in the Tennessee Valley Healthcare System, which includes the Chattanooga clinic, new patients had an average wait of 58 days to see a primary care doctor and 71 days to see a specialist. That was the sixth-longest wait among all U.S. facilities, according to an Associated Press analysis.

Members of Congress said the bill would go a long way toward resolving the VA's current crisis.

Chattanooga-area veterans were pleased as well.

"I think it's a good and necessary step," said Navy veteran Da'wah Akhtab.

Akhtab said he waited months to see his primary care doctor in Chattanooga. While he waited for his appointment, he was diagnosed with stage four cancer by doctors at Memorial Hospital. He's now in VA hospice care in Murfreesboro. He said he's grateful for the care he receives, but was dismayed at the months-long wait to see a VA doctor.

"I just felt like it was the twilight zone or something," he said. "I didn't know what was going on."

If the full deal is approved, Chattanooga's clinic will expand its primary care and mental health capacity, while also offering more specialty services, said Jessica Schiefer, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Valley Healthcare System.

Chattanooga's clinic currently provides primary care for 14,600 patients, and 25,000 veterans in the Chattanooga area are enrolled for some type of services.

Schiefer said the system is hiring 100 employees, including nurses, physicians and clerks to beef up services.

"With more space would come more services we could offer," she said. "That would help address access and wait times."

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at khardy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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