Army veteran Richard McCain had to drive an hour from his Matthews home to the Salisbury VA hospital just to get heart and cholesterol medications, until he was transferred to a cramped clinic in Charlotte.
“It was small, but I loved the convenience,” said McCain, 74, who served in an Army counter-intelligence unit from 1957 to '59.
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Now, with the opening of a vastly larger and more comprehensive VA outpatient clinic in University City, McCain and an ever-growing legion of veterans in the Charlotte region are about to get convenience – and better medical care – without having to drive so far.
Today, Veterans Administration Secretary James Peake and a number of politicians are expected for a ribbon-cutting at the 52,000-square-foot clinic at 8601 University East Drive, scheduled to open by week's end.
As new veterans return from Iraq and Afghanistan, the agency has been straining to handle the surging demand for care. In recent months, VA officials have been criticized for staffing shortages, long waits for veterans, poor care and skewed records on wait times.
The VA hopes state-of-the-art clinics like the one in University City will show their commitment to improving care for veterans. Another clinic opened in June in Hickory.
“It's our effort to provide easy access to veterans,” said Carolyn Adams, director of Salisbury's VA hospital. She also oversees clinics in Charlotte, Hickory and Winston-Salem.
The Charlotte clinic will serve veterans from Mecklenburg, Cabarrus, Union, Gaston and Lincoln counties.
It's five times larger than the old 10,000-square-foot clinic and can handle more than 19,000 patients a year. The old clinic's capacity was fewer than 6,000.