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Orlando, FL, Expected to Get a New Veterans Affairs Hospital

Fri September 12, 2003 - National Edition

ORLANDO, FL (AP) Veterans Affairs officials said a new 100-bed veterans hospital in Orlando costing $150 million could become a reality in three years.

Orlando and Las Vegas are two cities slated to open new hospitals in a 20-year Veterans Affairs plan announced in August. It would shift services to where veterans are living and cut costs of outdated or underused facilities.

During a public hearing, officials said the plan is being considered by an independent commission that will report its recommendation to VA Secretary Anthony Principi this fall. He could approve the plan by year’s end, officials said.

U.S. Rep. Ric Keller, R-Orlando, said no city deserves a hospital more because "Orange is where the veterans are." He said the Orlando area, with more than 380,000 veterans, is the largest metropolitan area in the country without a VA hospital.

Keller said the large numbers mean veterans in Central Florida wait as long as six months for an appointment at the existing VA Health Care Center. A new hospital would reduce those waits to weeks, he said.

The VA plan would build the new hospital at the site of a VA clinic near Baldwin Park, the community under development at the former Orlando Naval Training Center.

The hospital is part of an ambitious construction list that includes replacement towers for VA hospitals in Tampa, Gainesville and San Juan, six new outpatient clinics – three in Florida and three in Puerto Rico – and a new ambulatory-surgery center and two ambulatory-care centers in Florida. No cost projections for all the projects were available.

U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., sent a position paper endorsing the hospital. Orange County Chairman Rich Crotty told the panel that county commissioners this week passed a resolution backing the project.

Representatives of veterans’ organizations told members of CARES, an independent realignment commission that will report to the VA, that they were concerned the Orlando hospital would not be large enough and operational soon enough for the area’s pressing needs.