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VA center funds in federal budget
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Those long waiting times at the Stockton Veteran Affairs Clinic might soon be a thing of the past.

Veterans got a welcome surprise this week when President Barack Obama’s Veterans Administration budget included funding for the long-discussed and fought for Central Valley Community Based Outpatient Clinic and Community Living Center — a complex that is expected to be built on a 52-acre parcel that the agency purchased near San Joaquin General Hospital in 2010.

The announcement was met with great fanfare by local elected officials and Congressional representatives that have fought for the rights of veterans both at the local level and back in Washington, D.C.

“Inclusion of funding in the 2016 VA budget for the construction of the Central Valley Community Based Outpatient Clinic and Community Living Center is great news for our Valley veterans,” San Joaquin County Supervisor Bob Elliott said. “Building this facility in French Camp will dramatically improve the standard of health care for veterans across the Central Valley by providing them with readily accessible, state-of-the-art services and care.

“They deserve nothing less. San Joaquin County has been steadfast in its advocacy over the last decade to get this funded and built. Thank you to all those veterans, Veterans Organizations and members of our federal delegation who have worked with us in this collaborate effort to make this project a reality.”

In a December letter that Elliott wrote to Raleigh Contreras — a Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs — he outlined how wait times for Central Valley veterans for both medical and mental health services had continued to be a concern for the county and those tasked with providing care. The system had become so overburdened that in many instances veterans are being treated afterhours or on weekends at county facilities because of the long wait times at the Livermore or Stockton VA Clinics that are managed as part of the VA Palo Alto Health Care System.

A contract that was negotiated with the TriWest Healthcare Alliance allowed for medical treatment of veterans, but mental and behavior health services, Elliott wrote, were unable to be negotiated because of low reimbursement rates.

With the funding allocated in Obama’s budget, the sprawling campus, which could take up all 52 acres that the VA purchased in French Camp with funds that were approved in 2010, will likely meet all the needs of veterans not only in San Joaquin County but throughout the region.

The project got plenty of support in Washington, D.C., as well.

“The inclusion of the French Camp Veterans Affairs clinic in the President’s budget request is a major step forward to bringing high quality healthcare to veterans right here in the Central Valley,” Congressman Jeff Denham. “However, it is clear we must remain vigilant in our oversight to ensure that the project is completed on-time and on-budget. We worked on a bipartisan basis to get to this point, and I’m pleased to see French Camp funding take priority in the President’s budget.”

Stockton Congressman Jerry McNerney, who has championed the project for years and whose district includes the French Camp area where the complex will be built, praised the bipartisan nature of the work that went in to securing the funding in President Obama’s VA budget.

McNerney serves on the House Committee for Veterans Affairs and has championed for the rights of veterans ever since he was elected to congress.

 “The President heard our bipartisan call for action and included funding for the French Camp project in his budget for the VA,” McNerney said. “I have been pressing the administration since I came to Congress to build this facility. Veterans in the Central Valley are waiting too long and driving too far to get the quality care they have earned.”

The positioning of the property will allow for collaboration with San Joaquin General Hospital and provide easy access thanks to the neighboring I-5 corridor.

Services at the Community Based Outpatient Clinic will include primary care, mental health, physical and occupational therapy, radiology, audiology and speech pathology. A laboratory and pharmacy will also be on site. Eye, dental, prosthetics and other specialty services will be provided on a part-time or telehealth basis including cardiology, gastroenterology, rheumatology, orthopedics and podiatry.