A new veterans clinic will open in the Golden Isles in early September 2021 at a location to be announced in coming weeks.

David Whitmer, director of the Carl Vinson Medical Center in Dublin, said he plans to announce the site of the new clinic during a town hall meeting he will hold in the near future.

Past VA town hall meetings have been held at the American Legion post in Brunswick, but that venue is too small to safely hold an indoor meeting.

Whitmer said veterans affairs officials are talking with the College of Coastal Georgia about using the auditorium to make the announcement and discuss other issues and concerns specific to veterans living in the Golden Isles.

“We’re concerned about controlling social distancing,” he said.

The meeting will be broadcast live via Facebook for those who don’t feel comfortable attending in person, he said.

The new VA clinic will be about 25 percent larger than the existing one, which Whitmer said was not designed to maximize efficiency.

The new clinic will have a larger waiting room to enable patients to safely social distance. Clinic staff will take a team-based approach to deal with the health of veterans. The clinic will include a variety of services such as once-a-month cardiology services to rotate in and out of the building.

Mental health services are also a priority, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made the service difficult to offer in-person.

“We would love to have 100 percent face-to-face visits,” he said.

Rather than in-person visits, veterans can talk to a mental health expert online through a program called VA Video Connect.

Bennie Williams, commander of American Legion Post 9 in Brunswick, said a new clinic with added services is welcome news, but he still has concerns about the challenges of contacting VA officials by telephone.

Williams said callers remain on hold 20 to 30 minutes before talking to someone. Return calls can take days, he added.

Whitmer said statistics show a response to phone calls that is much faster than Williams claims.

“I disagree with Mr. Williams’ assessment,” he said.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced VA hospital officials to take extra precautions, including increasing the number of online doctor visits and adopting stringent requirements to enter a health facility to ensure the health and safety of veterans.

“Until the pandemic is over, we’re not going to be able to offer that service,” he said. “But we are still seeing patients face-to-face.”

Many veterans prefer the online doctor’s appointments for health reasons, Whitmer said.

Strict guidelines have enabled hospital officials to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak in the hospital in Dublin by creating a bubble-like environment accessible only by nurses and doctors. Residents in the community living center are in private rooms to ensure their safety, he said.

When patients show up for visits, they undergo health screenings and other precautions prior to being escorted to their appointment.

Williams said he is hopeful Golden Isles veterans see an improvement in service once the new clinic opens, but he remains skeptical. He said a new school building, for example, is nice, but it’s still only as good as the teachers and administrators.

“Maybe a new clinic will help,” he said. “Buildings and structures are just part of the operation.”

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