CHILLICOTHE, Ohio — A VA facility that has been in the heart of Ohio for almost 100 years might soon be shutting its doors.
“It’s all so complicated and annoying that it’s like what are we even…like, why,” Nathan Konik said.
Konik served in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division in the U. S. Army. It was during a jump, he says, he was hurt.
It started a long road with back pain and mental health issues. He’s been going to the Chillicothe VA Medical Center for the last year-and-a-half.
He does not believe the new recommendations to close the medical center are in the best interest of veterans in southern Ohio.
After a nationwide assessment of all 171 VA facilities across the country, it has been recommended to, among other things, close the historic VA campus, build an 80-bed community living center in the Circleville area and move 80 beds to Dayton along with inpatient mental health services.
It has also been recommended to build a multi-specialty clinic in Chillicothe and expand its partnership with the Department of Defense for inpatient acute services.
“There’s time right now for some changes to be made,” Stacia Ruby said.
Ruby is the facility’s public affairs officer. Diane Garber-Caldwell is the facility planner. They say specific plans if the recommendations are approved early next year, have not been fully developed.
What they do know is that it’s no reason for veterans to panic.
“Even with these recommendations, the Department of Veterans Affairs and its VA services are not leaving the Chillicothe area completely,” Garber-Caldwell said.
They say care is still the primary mission for the more than 20,000 people it serves in 17 counties.
Konik is in Scioto County and says his services would still be available, but his issue is with inpatient services, like surgeries. He worries if a veteran has a mental breakdown and needs to be hospitalized that going to Dayton or Columbus or even West Virginia is not always a healthy option.
“It becomes a problem because most veterans when they get out, their support system is their family,” Konik said.
He also says many veterans might not have the financial ability to pay for gas to go to places beyond Chillicothe.
“I drove up to Columbus about a week ago and I spent about a hundred bucks on a tank of gas,” he said.
Garber-Caldwell and Ruby want veterans to know regardless of what happens they will never have to re-enroll in VA healthcare and that being enrolled entitles them to healthcare across the country.
“We want them to continue with that security that we’re here for them and that we’re going to do everything we can to continue to be here for them,” Ruby said.
Garber-Caldwell says there is no indication that the 1,400 employees at the Chillicothe VA will lose their jobs, however, employees might need to transition to a different job.
Ruby says from now until the end of January veterans and those who utilize the VA can voice agreement or disapproval with the recommendations with state leaders.
“As soon as I heard about this about a week ago, I started calling the governor and really started bothering people because, like I said, it’s not just me that this affects,” Konik said. “There’s tons of veterans in southern Ohio that this is really, really going to start affecting.”
Ruby says the matter will then be placed on the desk of President Joe Biden for his signature before it goes to Congress for a vote by the end of March 2023.