By: Bonnie Davis Guy
Johnson County Veterans Service officer, Ralph Hutto, and Tennessee State Commander of the American Legion, Robert Hensley, have been working with the Veterans Affairs (VA) as well as state and federal legislators on the proposal for veterans to receive health care here in Johnson County instead of necessitating travel to Mountain Home in Johnson City or the Bristol, Virginia VA hospital. In September 2014 a meeting was held at the Johnson County Community Hospital in Mountain City to discuss this topic. In addition to Hutto and Hensley, also in attendance were Congressman Phil Roe and his assistant, John Abe Teague, VA medical director, Charlene S. Ehret, and assistant Pam Bergbigler, American Legion Post No. 6 Commander Frank Bass, VFW Post No. 6908 Commander Terry Reece, Johnson County Community Hospital Assistant Administrator, Chastity Trivett, Johnson County Mayor Larry Potter and Mountain City Mayor Lawrence Keeble.
The outcome of the meeting was a decision to submit a list of Johnson County veterans who supported seeking healthcare at the Johnson County Community Hospital facility. Over 630 names were submitted to the VA last month. On March 3, 2015 Pam Bergbigler of Mountain Home VA Medical Center informed Hutto that the Johnson County veterans had been approved locally, and that the information needed to move forward had been submitted to the VA district office.
The budget for this plan will be submitted at the VA budgetary session in September 2015. Once a budget is approved, contracts with Mountain States Health Alliance will have to be reached. Staffing and other facility costs and issues will be addressed. In the end, it is the hope that veterans can seek primary care, emergency room and lab services. Additionally, all veterans medical records will be linked with MSHA records so that both facilities can share in the patients medical history in real time instead of waiting for record transfers. If all goes as planned, veterans may look forward to local care coming about in early 2018.
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