A delegation representing Wilkes County government met with Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) in Washington, D.C., Thursday to talk about getting some type of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facility or services established within the county.
Wilkes County Manager John Yates, Wilkes County Commissioner Gary L. Blevins and Wilkes Veterans Service Officer Ralph Broyhill met with Burr at his office in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington.
They drove from Wilkes to Washington on Wednesday and returned to Wilkes on Friday.
Both verbally and with written information, said Broyhill, the delegation explained that the nearest VA medical facilities “are basically full, so it’s hard for veterans to get to be seen” for medical care.
Unless the capacity for providing veterans with medical care is increased, said Broyhill, the situation will only worsen due to people living longer and health problems related to military service in the Middle East.
The VA medical facilities closest to Wilkes include outpatient clinics in Hickory, Winston-Salem and Charlotte and VA Medical Centers in Salisbury and Durham. Broyhill said they also told Burr VA medical services closer to Wilkes and adjoining counties are needed.
Currently, he said, the 5,800 military veterans in Wilkes County, who are enrolled in the VA health care system, bring in about $26 million annually in VA health benefits.
Broyhill said about 43,900 military veterans in Wilkes and the eight adjoining counties (Ashe, Alleghany, Alexander, Caldwell, Iredell, Surry, Watauga and Yadkin) are enrolled in the VA health care system.
Burr discussed the federal government’s plans to build three new VA health care clinics, one each for western, central and eastern North Carolina.
The facility for central North Carolina, proposed for Kernersville, would replace the 57,350-square-foot VA clinic on Kimel Park Drive in Winston-Salem that opened in 1998.
Broyhill said Burr told the Wilkes delegation that he would have his liaison person based in Winston-Salem contact Wilkes County officials for additional discussions. He also said Burr was very complimentary about the existing VA clinics.
Gary D. Blevins, chairman of the Wilkes County commissioners, said he spoke to Sen. Kay Hagen (D-N.C.) about the same matter in Boone about three months ago.
The chairman said that due to the federal budget situation, he didn’t foresee much of a chance of getting a VA medical care facility constructed in Wilkes.
He said there was a better chance of getting VA medical services provided within Wilkes in some other way, but that it was premature to go into this in greater detail.
Local officials said the Wilkes Economic Development Corp. has also been involved in the discussions.
Veterans Medical Care Benefits provide outpatient medical services, hospital care, medicines, and supplies to eligible U.S. military veterans.
In most cases, veterans must be enrolled in the VA health system to receive these benefits. They may apply for enrollment in the system at any time.
There is no monthly premium for VA care, but there may be a co-pay, depending on income. Veterans’ family members may also be eligible to receive benefits.