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New VA center 'going to be a game changer' for veterans, Fredericksburg region
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CONSTRUCTION OF veterans CLINIC UNDERWAY IN SPOTSY

New VA center 'going to be a game changer' for veterans, Fredericksburg region

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It wasn’t truly a groundbreaking event at the new veterans facility, given that work had started months ago on the Spotsylvania County center that will be the largest of its kind in the nation.

But organizers purposely chose the time—a week before Veterans Day—to underscore the importance of the Fredericksburg Health Care Center to those it will serve. With four stories and 471,121 square feet, the new $300 million facility is expected to treat up to 29,000 veterans a year.

“This region of Virginia is one of the fastest growing for veterans in the whole country,” said J. Ronald Johnson, executive director of the Central Virginia VA Health Care System. “We’ve seen significant growth here and that’s why you see the clinic going up behind us.”

The facility is being built off U.S. 1 near the Massaponax exit for Interstate 95. During Thursday’s ceremony, highway traffic droned in the background along with the steady hum and beep-beep of machinery on the move.

Contractors started moving dirt for the center, which will be situated on 60 acres between Hood Drive and U.S. 1, in April, and crews already have put some steel beams in place.

The clinic is expected to open in summer or fall 2024—and not a moment too soon for a growing population. Existing VA clinics that serve the Fredericksburg area have seen a 31 percent growth over the last few years in overall patients and a 56 percent increase in female veterans, Johnson said.

They’re among an estimated 42,000 veterans in the Fredericksburg area, according to Congressman Rob Wittman, R–1st District, keynote speaker for Thursday’s event. Across Virginia, 8.5 percent of the population has served in the armed forces, Wittman said, and more than half of the state’s 800,000 veterans are 60 and older.

“They need this health care facility, they need the specialists that are going to be here,” he told about 50 people who gathered under a white tent at the construction site. “The great thing about it is they won’t have to travel to Richmond or up to Northern Virginia. They can get that care right here.”

Each speaker noted the assortment of medical offerings: primary care, mental health treatment, outpatient surgery, radiology, MRIs, CT scans “and almost every specialty you can think of,” Johnson said. The only thing the center won’t have is inpatient beds, meaning those who need to be hospitalized will have to travel to the VA facility in Richmond or to other hospitals in the community.

Johnson hopes the center can work with the Department of Defense to provide an urgent care clinic on site as well.

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Speakers also praised the partnerships that brought the new center to Spotsylvania.

“Days like today don’t happen from a single point or a single effort,” Wittman said. “It happens with the community, it happens with the region, it happens with VA, it happens with our state legislators, it happens with veterans services organization, it happens with folks across the region.”

No one in the audience seemed happier about the groundbreaking than Kevin Marshall, chairman of the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors. He started proposing the U.S. 1 acreage as the perfect site for a VA center three years ago.

“It was me versus Fredericksburg and Stafford when we went into this thing,” he said. “We were fortunate enough to come out with a win on this project. This is going to be a game changer for Spotsylvania County.”

The president and CEO of the development company building the facility said the same. Dr. Rustom Khouri, who has medical degrees as well as experience with real estate, told the group the new VA center “will impact your economy like no other. This is truly a transformative project and it will transform this area.”

The clinic may employ between 500 and 900 people, depending on how the market grows, Johnson said. Marshall hopes it offers partnerships with nursing programs at Germanna Community College and will help fill much-needed positions in the health care world with local graduates.

“That’s going to be good for everybody,” Marshall said.

Del. Mark Cole, who also worked with Marshall and other county officials on the project, said he expects the clinic to serve not only veterans in the immediate Fredericksburg area, but also service members from Prince William County to the suburbs of Richmond and from Culpeper County to the Northern Neck.

“It’s going to be the closest and probably the most comprehensive veterans services facility between Washington and Richmond,” Cole said.

For veterans who can’t tolerate the ride to Richmond, the local clinic will be a great benefit, said Lisa Gregory, a past department commander with the Disabled American Veterans organization. The DAV arranges drivers for the vans that take patients to Richmond, and Gregory said she’s thrilled to see a local option with all the specialty clinics.

“It’s going to be a huge help,” she said.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

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