Area waits on VA clinic word

Published 9:00 am Tuesday, October 30, 2012

After another year of speculation, local veterans service officers are still playing the waiting game on potential construction of a Veterans Affairs clinic.

“Nothing is coming out of Minneapolis in regards to future, community-based outpatient clinics right now,” said Jon Rhiger, Freeborn County Veterans Services officer.

Talk of a local veterans clinic in either Austin, Albert Lea or Owatonna has circulated for nearly five years. But with the Minneapolis VA Health Care System in the midst of its second interim director, Rhiger said, only more time will tell what happens. Former director Steve Kleinglass retired in January, and Rhiger has heard nothing new from VA officials.

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“My opinion is nothing will be decided on for our area until a permanent director is hired,” Rhiger said.

Rhiger expects more waiting after a full-time director is hired, so the new director has time to adjust to the role.

In the past few years, VA outpatient clinics were built in Ramsey and Mankato. Rhiger is confident that if talks begin again, this region is first on the list to get a new clinic. He still thinks Freeborn County with the intersection of Interstates 90 and 35 is the most likely and practical spot for a new clinic.

“Nothing has changed in that regard,” Rhiger said. “We’re still located ideally for a community-based outpatient clinic.”

Mower County Veteran Services officer Wayne Madson said last year that any VA clinic started in the area would likely be contracted through a nearby medical center. If it were in Austin or Albert Lea, he said, a clinic would likely be housed inside one of the Mayo Clinic Health System branches.