VA: It will ‘be some time’ before a decision is made on clinic

Published 11:30 am Thursday, April 1, 2010

A U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs community-based outpatient clinic is still in the works for south central Minnesota, but questions remain about when it will become a reality.

VA Spokesman Ralph Heussner on Wednesday said officials are moving forward aggressively with a new clinic in the northwest metro area, and he is unsure when officials will choose the location for the clinic in the south central part of the state.

“It’s probably going to be some time before we have an announcement,” he said.

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The clinic, which would serve not only Minnesota veterans but Iowa veterans as well, has a possibility of being built in Albert Lea, Owatonna or Austin. Albert Lea officials have been touting its two freeways and noting Iowa is but a few minutes away.

In December 2008, officials in Washington, D.C., announced plans for two VA clinics in Minnesota; however, plans for the south central location have been slow.

Freeborn County Veterans Services Officer Jon Rhiger said he has been told the decision about the location won’t be coming until January of 2011. He said he’s heard that the northwest metro clinic is the top priority in the state, followed by the St. James community-based outpatient clinic, followed by the south central location.

Heussner could not confirm a timeline.

Albert Lea Economic Development Agency Executive Director Dan Dorman said he thinks Albert Lea is in a good position for the clinic.

Ultimately, however, he noted that the decision will be made based on what is best for veterans.

“We definitely want it, but we want to make sure we do what’s best for veterans,” Dorman said.

Officials have not yet announced if the clinic will be new construction or renovation of an existing building.

There are facilities and land available in each of the communities being considered, Dorman said.

Other local officials have said they think Albert Lea would be an ideal location for a new community-based outpatient clinic, considering accessibility and demographics.