Cobb veterans welcome new clinic amid uncertainty over VA plans

Local representatives and VA officials cut the ribbon on a new clinic in East Cobb. MERIS LUTZ / AJC

Local representatives and VA officials cut the ribbon on a new clinic in East Cobb. MERIS LUTZ / AJC

The Department of Veterans Affairs celebrated the opening of the first of four new clinics in Cobb County Thursday as the agency prepares to expand and shift services in the county.

The $1.2 million, 9,400-square-foot facility on Roswell Road in east Cobb will offer mainly primary care and is one of several facilities replacing a clinic in Austell, which had been Cobb’s only facility and is now slated to be closed.

Veterans who spoke to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution expressed hope the new facility would improve veteran care, even as some raised concerns over the lack of public transit access to the new clinic and ongoing communication problems with the VA.

They also pointed out that closing the Austell clinic could pose problems for veterans in the southern part of the county who will now have to travel farther to see a doctor.

“I’m so grateful that they are building a new building because Austell is ancient,” said Dan Hydrick, a Vietnam veteran and volunteer with the Cobb Veterans Court. But, he added, most veterans he’s spoken to haven’t been informed of the changes and “Change is always stressful for veterans that are trying to seek treatment.”

That’s especially true of those in treatment for mental health issues, he said. The Roswell clinic will have psychologists but not psychiatrists on staff.

The other clinics in the pipeline will be on Dallas Highway in west Cobb, Herodian Way in Smyrna, and Bells Ferry Road in north Cobb.

In a statement, the VA said its clinic locations were chosen “based on the needs of Veterans through a competitive solicitation process.”

“The VA would be interested in learning of opportunities for improved transportation in Cobb County that would serve our Veterans and support efforts to do so,” it said. “The Austell clinic will not close until the South Cobb County and West Cobb County clinics are fully operational.”

Gregory Kendall, a spokesman for the VA, said the agency had sent letters to affected veterans but “we can always do a better job of communicating.”

The VA is also working to expand telehealth options, officials said.

Robert Smith, 59, an Army veteran of Operation Desert Storm, had his first appointment at the new clinic Thursday. Smith, who lives in south Cobb, said even though it was a longer commute for him, he is willing to travel for better service.

“I like what I see and what I’m feeling,” he said. “They seem like they’re more up to helping a soldier here. Austell, I wasn’t too happy there.”