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The Advocate - Veterans Affairs Setback Gets Temporary Fix

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By Nicholas Persac

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will begin providing a handful of specialty medical services in Lafayette to help care for veterans while the agency works to complete stalled clinics here and in Lake Charles.

The VA hoped to open two new medical clinics, one in Lafayette and one in Lake Charles, this month, but a clerical error discovered during a review process forced officials to scrap two years' worth of planning.

The VA has admitted its fault for the mistake, but Louisiana's U.S. congressional delegation has demanded answers and remedies to help care for veterans during the six- to 12-month setback.

The politicians have requested monthly progress reports from the VA, and the plan that the agency released late Thursday marked the first such update.

The first services -- home-based primary care, prosthetics, podiatry, dental care, optical services and imaging services and X-rays -- will be available to veterans in Lafayette by May 7, according to the updated plan.

"These services are welcomed additions to the communities but do not replace the care that will be provided by fully functioning clinics," U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said in an email.

The remaining services -- pre- and post-surgery consultation, audiology and cardiology consultation -- will be available in Lafayette no later than June 25.

"I will still keep pushing the VA to show real evidence of expediting the clinics -- facilities we owe our veterans," U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said in an email. "In the meantime, making these temporary specialty services available immediately is our priority."

VA officials will also expand interim services in Lake Charles.

Dental care, optical services and imaging services and X-rays will be available to veterans in Lake Charles by May 7. A mobile clinic will begin providing veterans there with primary three days per week and women's health care one day per week no later than June 4.

"While I welcome the temporary expansion of services, I know our veterans in Southwest Louisiana need full health clinics," U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, said in an email. "The timeline proposed by the VA (Thursday) is still unacceptable."

VA officials also surveyed property, both for new construction and with preexisting facilities, in Lafayette and Lake Charles earlier this month. Solicitation offers, which are underway, will be issued in August, and leases will be awarded in March.

"I remain concerned about the length of time to awarded the leases," U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, said in a news release. "Expediting this process must be a top priority of the VA."

According to the update, the VA must also fight a bid protest, which challenges a proposed contract award. MedVet Development LLC filed the protest March 19 with the U.S. Government Accountability Office, and a resolution is expected by June 27.

MedVet accuses the VA of being "arbitrary and capricious in its decision to cancel the procurement," but the agency would not release a detailed response as to not harm the VA's leverage in litigation.


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