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Veterans eye improved service with VA expansion

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Local veterans have been telling their elected officials that the local Veterans Administration needed to expand in order to handle a growing number of veterans who need healthcare. 

Those officials listened, and the Cedar Park Veterans Administration services has leased an additional 20,000 square feet of office space near Cedar Park Regional Medical Center. 

The space is planned for expanded healthcare options to veterans living in Central Texas, providing aid including primary care, laboratory and imaging services as well as expanded mental health services. 

Retired Army Lt. Col. Kevin Harris, a Cedar Park resident for the last 20 years, agreed. 

“The number of people eligible for VA benefits has increased dramatically,” said Harris. “If you take that with what’s going on the country in regards to health care and other factors, we just need the support. It’s paramount. It’s all of us: old and young, men and women, everyone.”

Harris was deployed to Iraq in 2004 and served as the U.S. Liaison Officer to the Coalition Forces, keeping track of logistics and money spent by all Coalition Forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was awarded a Bronze Star for his work in the Coalition Forces and after his retirement in 2008, Harris opened an insurance agency in Cedar Park. He currently serves on the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission.  

Army veteran Stewart Hines, of Round Rock, stressed the importance of specialized care for veterans that only the VA can provide. And local veterans say their choices for care are limited, with some making the drive to Temple to seek treatment.

“The VA expansion is important because we have a lot of new veterans that are coming out of all these conflicts,” said Hines. “Those veterans need help and they are not going to get it from a civilian doctor because they are not used to the things we experience. We need doctors that, on a day-to-day basis, specialize on taking care of veterans that share the same issues. If they don’t expand it, where are veterans going to go?”

The number of veterans needing healthcare services in Central Texas has skyrocketed in recent years. An outpatient VA clinic in Austin opened its doors as the largest of its kind in the country and has experienced a growth rate of more than double what other clinics in the nation have seen, according to reports from the Central Texas Veterans Healthcare System last year. 

The Cedar Park facility’s expansion will help manage some of that growth, and the existing facility on Bell Boulevard will remain open to provide tele-primary care. 

“We are happy to see any expansion of veteran’s services, so the expansion of the Cedar Park VA clinic is good for all veterans,” said Mitch Fuller, senior vice commander of Leander VFW Post 10427 and a retired Army Captain. “We live in an area with a huge population of veterans with Fort Hood just to the north, Fort Sam… it’s important that the VA is a key part of the community and advocates and takes care of our veterans. I’m very, very happy about the expansion of the VA and the fact that it’s in Cedar Park.”

Many local veterans discussed the expansion over a dinner held at the Leander VFW Post 10427 earlier this month. 

As those in attendance plated their steaks and all the fixings at the post-held dinner on July 20, they also dished out their opinions of the new expansion and what it would mean for them and for veterans in the surrounding area.

Post Commander and retired Sgt. Dave Walden, a Lago Vista veteran with 12 years of combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, says the VFW has grown by 60 percent just in the last two years. 

“Our veteran population is growing in the Cedar Park-Leander area and, with the amount of veterans that are moving in, it’s about a 2-hour drive up to Temple,” Walden explained. “As far as the expansion goes, this VA has always done me right. They prioritize my appointments and their mental health team is fantastic. The physical health team is fantastic, I’ve never had any issues. The whole staff is just really responsive. It’s going to give the VA the ability to hire more so they can service veterans with that same fantastic quality of service they have now.”

“More and more veterans come here to retire and choose to live here so it’s critical,” said Fuller, a 15-year Cedar Park resident. “It’s so helpful to our VFW post and our service officers so we can steer veterans to the right place. ”

Fuller, an Iraqi Freedom veteran, enlisted in the Army at 28 and was commissioned as an officer at 32. He served for 17 years, is a bronze star recipient and served as Cedar Park’s Mayor Pro Tem from 2007-2014. 

“Under the leadership of Director Sandles, the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System continues to strive to improve health care services for Veterans,” Congressman John Carter said at a press conference announcing the expansion on July 3. “This expansion means CTVHCS will have the resources they need to treat even more Central Texas veterans, and I’m proud to see this expansion take place right here in Texas’ 31st Congressional District.”

“We are pleased to work with our community partners to continue to offer expanded services to our Veterans,” said Christopher Sandles, Director and CEO of CTVHCS. “Judge Carter has been a staunch supporter of our health care system as we continue to look for ways to provide improvements in services and access to care for our veterans.”

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