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VA outpatient clinic in Bemidji is essential - Guest Editorial

Joe Vene wrote the following commentary published recently in the Bemidji Pioneer. We concur with his logic. He is being very diplomatic here. The fact is the US Department of Veterans Affairs is seriously considering locating a new community-based outpatient clinic in Fosston rather than Bemidji. We support the Bemidji location as one that would be much more accessible by veterans who live in the greater Park Rapids community.

On June 23, the US Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Public Affairs Media Relations in Washington, DC, released the decision to provide enhanced health care for Minnesota veterans closer to where a large number of veterans live.

Accordingly, the secretary of Veterans Affairs announced plans to open a new community-based outpatient clinic in Bemidji to bring these veterans access to world-class health care.

This is tremendous news.

Local government officials, congressional representatives and others have had many contacts with the Veterans Administration in the siting of a VA community-based outpatient clinic, indicating their support for the Bemidji location.

Bemidji has tended to market itself as a prospective location based primarily on the business sense of a VA community-based outpatient clinic. Bemidji is the regional center for not only population and commerce, but also for primary and advanced health care services. Veterans services posts, individual veterans and others have indicated their support for locating the VA clinic in Bemidji.

Bemidji, an emerging regional center, is the geographical, demographical, political and economic hub for this area. People from throughout the area find Bemidji's proximity convenient. The Bemidji location is logical and ideal.

If we threw a magnetic VA community-based outpatient clinic siting dart at a map of northern Minnesota, it would land in Bemidji. People from throughout northern Minnesota access themselves to Bemidji's medical, support and commercial services such as the Bemidji Regional Airport.

Residents from many northern Minnesota communities, including Fosston, find themselves regularly traveling to Bemidji for health care services and an array of conveniences.

The greater Bemidji area and all of northern Minnesota sees an increasing veterans population in need of medical treatment. Access to a VA community-based outpatient clinic in Bemidji is necessary, as veterans are finding it increasingly difficult to travel to Fargo, St. Cloud and Minneapolis.

Veterans in our region will be best served by the centrality of the VA Bemidji clinic location. I will advocate for transportation arrangements whereby veterans area-wide can access a Bemidji VA community-based outpatient clinic.

A VA clinic in Bemidji will be located among the great American Indian reservations of Red Lake, White Earth and Leech Lake, whose many veterans also need access to medical care. The Area Indian Public Health Services Office is located in Bemidji.

In our VA community-based outpatient clinic venture, I would invite communication and collaboration with our American Indian communities.

From a veteran's standpoint, the over-arching reason for siting a VA clinic should be that of accessing quality primary and advanced medical and health care - and none other.

In consideration of all relevant factors, an objective decision, siting the VA community-based outpatient clinic in Bemidji, is essential.