Multi-specialty VA clinic opens in Marietta, expanding services for veterans

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Cobb County’s largest Veterans Affairs clinic opened in Marietta on Monday, the latest step in a years-long plan to shift and expand services for veterans in the county and the metro area.

The 64,000-square-foot facility offers audiology, physical and occupational therapy, dental, eye, and prosthetics services, which are the highest-volume specialties for veterans, said Gary Bruton, the Atlanta VA’s west region administrator.

Dan Hydrick, a Vietnam veteran who is an active volunteer in Cobb’s veteran community, said he and the other VA patients have been waiting years for the new clinic to open while the smaller clinics in the county have struggled to meet demand.

“Overbooked, understaffed, appointments canceled. It’s been brutal,” he said. “It’s been a real crisis for years.”

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Currently, the county’s four VA clinics are in West Cobb off of Dallas Highway, South Cobb in Smyrna, East Cobb off of Roswell Road and the new Marietta clinic at 1263 Cobb Parkway North.

The goal is to begin offering primary care and mental health care services at the multi-specialty Marietta clinic by the end of the year. When it does, the East Cobb and South Cobb clinics will close and patients will be transferred. The West Cobb clinic will remain open.

“Once we are sure that we’re not doing anything that will harm those veterans who still depend on those clinics, once we are completely confident — and we will be once the new clinic is fully ramped up — it’ll be a no-brainer,” said Gregory Kendall, the Atlanta VA Health Care System’s spokesman.

The $15 million outpatient facility has the capacity to serve 17,000 veterans and will eventually employ around 250 people. The three smaller Cobb locations had just under 15,800 total visits in 2021, according to VA officials.

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

The plan to revamp veterans health care in Cobb started with the transition out of the old Austell clinic to the other three VA clinics, which opened in the last few years while the Marietta clinic was under construction. It was delayed in 2019 after a hiccup in the bidding process, and then by supply chain issues during the pandemic. Construction began in August 2020 and was completed in November 2021.

Before, patients had to drive to one of the other multi-specialty clinics in the area — Decatur, south Atlanta, Carrollton or Zebulon. Many Cobb veterans had to drive to the Decatur VA center, which Hydrick said is often overcrowded, to get key services like x-rays or hearing aids.

“They’re coming in during the high rush hour, and they’re leaving during the high rush hour,” he said. “So it’s an all-day affair.”

The new facility will be a “one-stop-shop” for the top services and should also help “decompress” the locations inside the perimeter, Bruton said.

Transportation is one major barrier veterans face when accessing health services, but Hydrick said the new clinic’s location on bus routes will help.

“A lot of the folks can catch the bus further south into Cobb County to get up here, which is critical,” he said. “It’s always been a hard time getting the veterans transportation, especially the seniors.”

The Marietta facility will also have eligibility and enrollment support assistants to help those who are not yet enrolled in the VA health system navigate the process, which Hydrick said “is an ongoing nightmare for veterans to get through.”

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

The changes in Cobb are part of the department’s larger plans to rebuild and reinvest in the veterans’ health care system across the southeast. Earlier this year, the VA proposed a plan to replace old clinics, including the four major VA hospitals in Georgia, and expand clinics in the metro area.

The Atlanta VA Health Care System has come under more scrutiny in recent months: watchdogs of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs investigated allegations of unhealthy conditions in the Atlanta hospital’s psychiatric ward, and Atlanta VA nurses have spoken out about low staffing affecting patient safety.

Hydrick said he is “hopefully optimistic” about the new clinic’s ability to meet demand and its impact on veterans’ access to health care.

“It will go a long way to serve this community,” he said. “I will pray loud and long that this thing works in a great capacity ... Knowing the tragedies that befall the VA from time to time, who knows? We’ll see.”