FREDERICKSBURG — By 2025, the largest veterans health care center in the nation will be located in the Fredericksburg region.
That was the message delivered by Rep. Rob Wittman, R-1st, as he opened a briefing for veterans at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3103 in Fredericksburg on Friday.
Wittman, who was accompanied by several representatives from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said the facility will be “full scope” and will feature “every element of service.”
“You won’t have to travel anymore,” Wittman told the large gathering of veterans, referring to the long trip many of them make to the McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Richmond.
“Yes, Fredericksburg will have the largest VA Health Care Center in the country,” said DeAnne Seekins, director of the VA’s Mid-Atlantic Health Care Network. “Right now, the biggest one, Charlotte, has about 350,000 square feet. We’re going to have more than 400,000 square feet here.”
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The VA began receiving proposals to build the facility in October, and bids will be accepted until Jan. 24. Although the precise location of the new facility is still unknown, the VA is eager to break ground.
“This is for sure coming,” Seekins said. “This has been in planning for the last five years, and now we are out identifying where the site will be and then construction will begin.”
According to VA statistics, the Fredericksburg region is home to more than 42,000 veterans, and those numbers continue to rise.
Stafford County has about 22,468 veterans, Spotsylvania County has 14,693, King George County has 3,309, and Fredericksburg has 2,252.
“If you look at Virginia, we’re No. 4 in veterans population. We are, if not the top state, one of the top two in growth of veterans populations,” Wittman said.
Tai Mamea of Spotsylvania is the post commander at VFW Post 3103. He believes the new facility will be a tremendous win-win for the entire region.
“I love it,” Mamea said. “This is exactly what our veterans and our community partners are asking for.”
Although he is slightly concerned about the increased traffic that might come with the new project, veteran Scott Pipenhagen of Spotsylvania said he looks forward to eliminating his trips to the VA medical center in Richmond.
“I go to Richmond a lot and it’s kind of inconvenient, so I try to do multiple things on that one trip,” Pipenhagen said. “As long as they take into consideration the ingress and egress, the access and the parking here, we really need the facility up here. This will be much better.”
The new facility will have countless services for veterans, including audiology, optometry, prosthetics, occupational and physical therapy, mental health, a pharmacy and more.
The facility will not have in-patient hospital beds, so qualified veterans who require care beyond the scope of the health care center’s capabilities will be referred to other VA facilities or medical centers in the community.
Officials believe the new facility could offer permanent jobs to more than 600 health care and administrative employees.
There are two community-based VA outpatient clinics in the Fredericksburg region, each operating out of about 10,000 square feet of office space.
Patients at the clinic in Fredericksburg will transition to a new 20,000-square-foot clinic in Spotsylvania in 2021.
Government officials said both transitions — to the new clinic in Spotsylvania in 2021 and the new center in 2025 — will be seamless for patients.
“What will happen is, you’ll get a letter that says: effective such and such a date, your services are now here, at the new site,” Seekins said.
VA officials on Friday said the doors of the two community clinics won’t close until every patient transitions to the new health care center. They also assured veterans that there will be no gap in coverage for services during the transition.
Fredericksburg resident Richard Martinez is a veteran who welcomes the new facility and the idea of remaining local for his health care needs.
“I think it’s going to be great, and it’s a very big plus for us,” Martinez said. “I do go to Richmond VA now, and I use the CBOC near Mary Washington, but I look forward to this because I can stay here. I don’t have to travel 50 miles and drive for an hour and a half anymore.”