ROCKWOOD, Tenn. (WVLT) -- This March, Roane County veterans will celebrate a victory - the VA will open a new outpatient clinic on North Gateway Avenue at the Rockwood-Harriman line.
"It will save making a trip to Knoxville, Murfreesboro, Nashville for someone who gets a head cold or minor inuries - cuts, and bruises and stuff like that," said Melvin Page, a Vietnam veteran.
The county's former VA clinic in Rockwood shut down last year because of staffing problems. Congressman Chuck Fleischmann's office says the new clinic will be contractor operated through Valor Healthcare.
"There's a lot of people around here that need to go to a clinic to get their medicine and get their checkups and stuff like that and they have to travel so far. It's hard on them - some of them are disabled, really disabled," said Robert Brooks, a Vietnam veteran.
But it's still a disappointment to many hoping for a full-service VA hospital. Harriman's Mayor, Chris Mason, offered the former Roane Medical Center building to the VA for just $1.00, but the VA turned it down - meaning veterans needing specialized healthcare will still have to drive to Nashville, Murfreesboro or Johnson City.
"The people that need to use the hospital are the people that don't need to be traveling five hours roundtrip, and that's what's happening," said Mason.
- like Page, who was exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam and lost his jaw to cancer. He's already traveled to Nashville and Johnson City four times this month. His next trip is Thursday.
"We'll take what we can get right now. One step at a time. Hopefully we'll live long enough to see a hospital here one day," said Page.
Mason said he also offered the VA free space for a clinic in one of the former medical center buildings in Harriman, so he wonders why the VA chose the location it did for the new clinic.
The VA said it selected Valor Healthcare as its contractor to provide space and medical services, and said the organization provided the most competitive package despite passing on the free building space in downtown Harriman.