Chairman Filner, Congresswoman Brown, and other present members of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, my name is Guy Diffenbaugh, Commander of Jacksonville Chapter 1 of the Disabled American Veterans and I am honored to be here and give a statement concerning the Building of a Critical Health Infrastructure for Veterans in Jacksonville, Florida.
First I wish to thank you on behalf of all veterans for your support and funding of veterans’ programs.
The DAV and other Veteran Service Organizations have previously made Congress aware of the issues concerning veterans’ appropriations so I will only reiterate those issues pertaining to healthcare and specifically the concerns we have here in Jacksonville. I have asked the VA for data to support my claims but was told I was not privy to the same and that the VISN would present supporting data so I will present information based upon my personal experience and that of members of my organization, supported by some research done on my personal computer.
I am in the VA health care system and find the care I receive exceptional. I can assure you that, though these professionals provide excellence, the system is crowded, especially in the Jacksonville Outpatient Clinic. We were supposed to have a new clinic operational by the fall of 2005. Increased size and some services currently available only at the VA Medical Centers in Gainesville and Lake City are supposed to be and should be incorporated in the new clinic as well as adequate parking. Our present clinic is not large enough to adequately support the veteran population and our parking extends for city blocks to include a dirt lot.
An additional factor that our organization has expressed concern for is allowing Category 8 veterans into the healthcare system that was not designed to handle these veterans. With the VA estimate of 1300 new veterans in the North Florida South Georgia VA Health Care System alone (though100, 000 have signed up and are on the waiting list) we would have an unacceptable degradation to the delivery of health care.
According to the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs Annual Report dated 31 December 2008, Duval County has the fifth largest veteran population in the state and is the only county of significant veteran population density without a VA Medical Center in close proximity. We must travel 1+ hour for limited capability at Lake City Medical Center and 1½ plus hours to reach the full service Gainesville Medical Center. The DAV provides 15 passenger vans to transport veterans to the hospitals. My Chapter has recently purchased 2 vans for transport to Lake City and Gainesville. These vans are full 5 days per week with waiting lists. Although the Jacksonville area may be the 5th largest concentration of veterans in Florida it stands to reason that with the massive rate of deaths of WWII veterans retired in south Florida and the largest military presence in Florida being the North Florida Southeast Georgia area (many of which love the area and retire here) the Jacksonville area veteran population should in the near future become the largest density in the state.
The VA needs to complete a full service clinic or medical center to service our area. It’s time to take action. We are already 4 years beyond the announced opening date. As Congresswoman Brown said in the summer of 2006, referring to the impasse, “ we need to work out the issues so this doesn’t go on for years” and “ an impasse over another VA project in the Orlando area delayed it for 25 years”. The Committee is well aware of the DAV’s position on veterans’ entitlements. On 24 February 2009, our National Commander addressed a Joint Congressional Hearing of the Committee for veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C., and the Committee was in agreement on the issues from Advanced Appropriation to Entitlements. Since there is agreement the only missing component is action. On behalf of all veterans, I ask you to make a decision this year and back it with action.