Veterans in the Dallas-Fort Worth area may soon have another place to go for health care if a group of House Republican and Democratic lawmakers succeed.
Dallas and Fort Worth members of Congress sent a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie this week, urging the VA to consider opening a new clinic in a currently vacant hospital facility in Garland.
A new clinic in Garland could lower the average wait time at veterans’ health facilities in the area and would provide a new, more accessible location for veterans who live on the northern side of the Metroplex, said Rep. Ron Wright, an Arlington Republican who helped write the letter with Rep. Colin Allred, a Dallas-area Democrat. The letter was signed by five other North Texas representatives.
The 470,000 square foot hospital facility was a Baylor Scott and White health center. The Dallas-based company closed the location in early 2018 because of a dramatic decline in patient volume. The company, which still owns the building, is willing to donate the facility to the VA.
Officials within the hospital system have had “preliminary conversations with the VA in North Texas; however, no decisions have been made,” said Julie Smith, a spokesperson for Baylor, Scott and White Health, in a statement.
When asked about the letter urging the VA to consider the hospital, Jessica Jacobsen, a VA spokesperson, responded in a statement that the department “appreciates the lawmakers’ concerns and will respond to them directly.”
In their letter, the lawmakers said acquiring the hospital is necessary because the veteran population—along with the entire region’s population—is quickly increasing. Acquiring the facility would save taxpayer money, the letter stated, as it would be much cheaper to accept the donated hospital than to build a new facility.
“We recognize there likely will be costs associated with retrofitting the hospital, but we know the cost to build a similar facility is between $800 million and $1 billion,” the letter said. “Without a new facility, the ability to care for veterans in North Texas will present a major challenge in the future.”
Allred and Wright have not received any sort of official answer from the VA. Wright said that he spoke with some VA employees who have said the location was favorable, but he stressed that that information was not official.
“I know when I talked to the VA it was not the people who would be making the decision,” Wright said. “They gave me every indication that they thought it would be a favorable conclusion.”
Wait times at VA health clinics vary widely across the state.
A new patient typically as to wait about 18 days to receive a non-emergency, primary care appointment at the Dallas VA Medical Center, the largest veterans’ health facility in the DFW area, VA data show.
In one San Antonio clinic, a similar appointment can be made in nine days. An El Paso clinic averages a 53-day wait time.