Hagerstown still first choice for VA clinic

June 24, 1997


Staff Writer

Department of Veterans Affairs officials on Monday said plans to open an outpatient medical clinic in Hagerstown had not changed despite suggestions by Frederick County, Md., officials that it be located there instead.

Richard Pell, director of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center near Martinsburg, W.Va., said officials have sent only one proposal to Washington, D.C.

"Hagerstown is the only proposal that we have," he said.

Pell said the Western Maryland Hospital Center on Pennsylvania Avenue is the preferred site for the clinic. If that location should fall through, Pell said officials would select another spot in the Hagerstown area.


"We see that as a central location," he said.

Frederick County Commissioners President Mark Hoke said he is not interested in doing battle with Washington County. An outpatient clinic in Frederick would be centrally located for veterans in Washington, Frederick and Carroll counties, he said.

"We're not out to steal Hagerstown's rice bowl," he said. "Would I like to see an outpatient center in Frederick County? Yes, I would. A lot of our veterans now commute to Martinsburg for outpatient care."

Hoke said he jumped on the issue after Commissioner Bruce Reeder told him the Department of Veterans Affairs was looking for a site. He said he was not aware at the time that Hagerstown had an inside track on the clinic, but probably would have suggested Frederick even if he had.

Washington County veterans reacted angrily to Saturday's published reports that Frederick officials were interested in the clinic.

"Mr. Hoke is right. It's not a done deal, but it's in the final process," said Ray Linebaugh, president of the Joint Veterans Council of Washington County. "I was just about shell-shocked."

Linebaugh said putting a clinic in Frederick would do nothing for most of the veterans in Washington County and Southcentral Pennsylvania. He said most would continue to make the drive to Martinsburg.

"It was a big surprise to me, too," said veteran Brady Haines, who lives in Big Pool. "I really thought it was a done deal."

"Going to Frederick, you're traveling over two mountains and you're getting into a high-traffic area," said Robert Ardinger of Williamsport.

The dispute puts U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, R-Md., in a potentially sensitive position since both counties are in the 6th district he represents in Congress. Bartlett aide Phil Straw downplayed the matter on Monday.

"The congressman has said, let's put it in Western Maryland," he said. "Let's make it accessible to the veterans who need it most."

Straw said VA officials have the final say. The VA will send the proposal - along with dozens of similar recommendations from across the country - to congressional subcommittees that govern veterans issues.

"He is not the decision-maker. He is an ally to the decision-making process," Straw said of Bartlett. "We're leaving that clearly in the good hands of the VA and our veterans."

VA officials have proposed opening an outpatient clinic in Hagerstown to improve heath care for veterans. Patients would be able to use the clinic for checkups, routine follow-up examinations and other basic services.

The VA has said it plans to add one satellite clinic in the area each year over the next several years.

The Herald-Mail Articles