KINGSTON (WATE) - Representatives Chuck Fleischmann and Scott Desjarlais were in Roane County on Friday with Florida Rep. Jeff Miller, head of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
They toured an existing VA clinic in Rockwood and got a look at the old Roane Medical Center in Harriman. Many people in the county hope that facility will soon become a new VA hospital.
There was an outpouring of support for the hospital at a rally.
"I feel this needs to be a VA hospital for our veterans. We need one bad," said Dale Brooks, a veteran.
Hundreds of veterans were there. Many expressed the importance of having a local VA hospital, especially because the closest ones are about 150 miles away in Murfreesboro and Johnson City.
"Some of the veterans, if you need care, trying to go 150 miles is tough. A lot of the World War II vets are kind of old and can't drive," said John Maliskey, a local veteran.
The small VA clinic in Rockwood has had staffing issues.
"We have a small clinic, but right now they are low on personnel and they are only operating one day a week. They had to move one of my appointments moved back until September," Maliskey explained.
Representatives Fleischmann and Miller, as well as other officials, said they hoped to have the clinic reopened.
"We have men and women who are coming back from great service and they have needs. Many times those needs are not met. Let's face it. When a clinic in Rockwood, Tennessee, closes down due to lack of staffing, that's unacceptable," Rep. Fleischmann said.
The main purpose of the visit was to view the old Roane Medical Center, where the possible VA hospital would go. It is being offered to the Department of Veterans Affairs for the bargain price of one dollar.
"What we have to do now is convince the Department of Veterans Affairs that this is a wise use of their money. Not necessarily leasing the building for a dollar, but staffing it. And is there a true need for in patient care in this area," Rep. Jeff Miller said.
Rep. Fleischmann also presented Rep. Miller with a petition that included 26,000 signatures from East Tennesseans in support of this hospital.
Miller says it will help show the Department of Veterans Affairs how passionate people are about the issue.
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