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Rep. Gus Bilirakis sets town hall on Pasco VA clinic

NEW PORT RICHEY — U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis has scheduled a town hall meeting for Wednesday to seek veterans' input on potential sites for a Department of Veterans Affairs clinic in Pasco County.

"Although the final decision on the location remains in the hands of the VA, I feel it is my duty to solicit opinions from veterans and their families within our communities," said Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor.

Bilirakis, vice chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, pushed to include the clinic in a federal law approved two weeks ago to ease access to health care for veterans. The $16.3 billion package includes funds for 27 new or expanded clinics nationwide. The Pasco clinic was the only one in Florida.

The plan is still preliminary but calls for consolidating services at five existing clinics in New Port Richey and Port Richey: the main outpatient clinic, a dental clinic, a mental health annex, an eye clinic and a center that coordinates home-bound veteran services.

All of those would be housed in a 114,000-square-foot space. The VA maintains that the move is a consolidation only, but Bilirakis has said he hopes the clinic offers some new services.

The clinic is expected to be located in central Pasco, possibly in Land O'Lakes, and near a major highway, or close to a major population center like New Port Richey. One potential site is the former Community Hospital in New Port Richey.

Once a deal is reached, the property owner would have 26 months to open the clinic. The VA has proposed leasing the space for $11 million over 20 years.

Whatever the VA decides, Bilirakis said he hopes it accommodates the 14,000 veterans who use the various clinics now. Pasco has 54,000 veterans.

"This clinic is for them, and their considerations should be taken into account," he said.

The meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the West Pasco Government Center, 8731 Citizens Drive, New Port Richey.

Contact Rich Shopes at rshopes@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6236.

Rep. Gus Bilirakis sets town hall on Pasco VA clinic 08/23/14 [Last modified: Saturday, August 23, 2014 9:50pm]
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