Disabled East End veterans like Richard May travel about 100 miles roundtrip from Southampton to the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center to receive health care, a burden in both time spent and gas cost.
“Last week, I went twice in a week,” the commander of the Riverhead American Legion Post 273 said.
But North Fork veterans soon won’t have to travel that far to receive medical care, as a new clinic is expected to open at the county center in Riverside by December.
Previously, many Suffolk veterans had to drive to the Northport hospital for health care, more than an hour-long drive for some North Fork residents.
There is currently an East End VA clinic inside Gabreski Airport in Westhampton. Officials have said the facility, which is located on the Air National Guard side of the airport, is difficult to access because security at the base is tight and it is difficult to get to by public transportation. That facility has also been described as antiquated by County Executive Steve Levy.
Last Tuesday, the county Legislature approved a measure allowing Mr. Levy to sign off on a ten-year lease for the VA clinic at the county center.
“The services offered by the VA can be life-altering, and so we are proud to provide increased benefit access to our East End veteran population,” Mr. Levy said in a release.
The County Executive has championed the cause for the past few years with 120,000 veterans currently living in Suffolk County, more than any other in the state, said Levy spokesperson Dan Aug.
In 2008, the county secured a $500,000 state grant to finance half the building cost of the new facility. The county picked up the rest of the $1 million price tag.
The new 4,000-square foot, two-story facility will offer primary and mental health care to any Suffolk veteran. The center will also feature a new elevator for veterans with mobility problems.
Vets will still need to travel to Northport for services such as CT scans and MRIs.
The Department of Veteran Affairs, which is run by the federal government, will oversee and staff the new clinic.
Riverhead Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2476 commander Gene McSherry said the new clinic, in addition to helping East End residents, will also lighten the workload for hospital workers at the Northport VA.
“Its going to take a lot of pressure off Northport,” he said.
It will also help older veterans living on a fixed income, Mr. McSherry said.
“[The veterans] don’t get paid mileage,” he said. “Every veteran I’ve talked to so far is happy this center is going to be there.”