Hundreds of veterans said Roane County needs a VA hospital during a rally Friday morning. Right now, the closest VA hospitals are in Johnson City and Murfreesboro - over 140 miles away from the Roane Medical Center in downtown Harriman, where many are hoping the hospital will locate once the medical center moves to its new location in Midtown next year.
"A lot of our veterans, they're up in age - they can't stand the trip. And they can't afford it, due to the fact of gas prices," said Dale Brooks, an Army and Navy veteran.
Even veterans with small medical concerns have to travel, since the VA outpatient clinic in Rockwood has been closed for about a week due to staffing problems.
The city of Harriman is offering the Roane Medical Center building to the Department of Veterans Affairs for $1.00. Congressman Chuck Fleischmann, Ccott Desjarlais and House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller toured the center and the closed VA clinic before the rally Friday morning.
"I think it's a tremendous opportunity for Roane County, for East Tennessee and most importantly for our veterans to get the health care that they deserve," said Congressman Fleischmann.
But it's not a done deal - Miller said the VA must consider the need for a hospital in the area, along with costs like staffing.
"It makes sense geographically. Are the numbers here? I don 't know and that's something the VA will have to be able to determine," said Congressman Miller.
But locals say the need is great:
"If you had a hospital here, you'd alleviate the load in Johnson City and in Murfreesboro. Because all of the veterans out of this area end up at one of those two hospitals," said Jot Raymond, an Army veteran.
"It would serve all kinds of East Tennessee people - we have a lot of veterans in this area," said James Murphy, also an Army veteran.
So far, 26,000 people have signed petitions of support.
The congressmen said they'll continue to push for the hospital, but at this point, there's no time frame on a decision from the VA.