Elk County officials are looking to make the lives of area veterans a little easier.
Plans are in the works to establish a Veterans Affairs clinic in the county as part of a joint effort between county officials and Elk Regional Health Center in St. Marys. Officials said the clinic would service veterans in need across Elk and likely neighboring Cameron County.
While the development of a clinic is desired by those involved, no timeline is in place for when such an agency would be up and running.
“There is nothing concrete at this point, but we are doing everything we can to make sure this happens,” Elk County Commissioner Dan Freeburg said on Wednesday afternoon. “We (the county commissioners) are in sole support of this. We are blessed to have a long tradition of veterans coming out of Elk County and serving our country, and the least we can do is thank them for their service and give them more help when they need it.
“It’s just another way for us to try and take care of our veterans.”
Some figures indicate that nearly 3,000 veterans call Elk County home, many of which have to travel long distances — hours away from home in some cases — to get treatment for a variety of physical and mental ailments. With the war in Iraq complete and the conflict in Afghanistan soon coming to an end, more and more veterans are coming into the system for treatment and care.
“Obviously there is a need here,” Freeburg said. “And, it’s our job as county officials to express that need to the higher ups.”
From Elk County, Freeburg said some veterans travel to VA sites in such locations as Pittsburgh, Erie, Altoona and beyond.
“It’s still quite an inconvenience for members of our population,” Freeburg said. “We want to do what’s right for them and give them the help they need.”
As it stands, veterans are driven to the various VAs as part of a veterans program in the county, according to Freeburg.
The clinic would be a joint venture with Elk Regional Medical Center, which has agreed to house the proposed new clinic at its campus in St. Marys.
Now, county officials are trying to drum up support from the federal and state levels on down. Freeburg said the vets clinic project is being spearheaded by the county’s veterans affairs director, Leslie Neal.
“Leslie just received an award at the last commissioners meeting for the number of benefits she has pulled into Elk County,” Freeburg said. “We are very grateful we have her.”
Freeburg said there is no way of determining, at this point, how long it might take to get such a clinic up and running.
“We have to go to the Vets Administration and all the assistance from the federal and state governments would have to fall into place,” Freeburg said. “There really is a lot more work to do. Right now there is no timeline, but we are trying to build the foundation blocks to make this happen. We are looking to get everybody on board with this.”
It is not immediately clear whether the clinic would be a separate facility on the Elk Regional campus, or actually inside the hospital itself. The amount of funding needed for such a project also wasn’t immediately available.
“This is something we would really like to do ... now it’s just a matter of getting everything in place,” Freeburg said.
A call left seeking comment from Neal was not immediately returned as of Wednesday night.
There are currently veterans clinics and offices located in Bradford, Warren and DuBois.