ROCKWOOD (WATE) - Veterans in Roane County received notices Monday that their local VA clinic will soon be closing.
The outpatient clinic serves hundreds of patients in Roane and surrounding counties. Now, those people will have to travel much further for health care.
Officials with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs told 6 News the contract of the company that provides services will expire at the end of October.
Ray Collett, a U.S. Navy veteran and a former Rockwood City Council member, and around 800 other veterans that use the clinic received a letter letting them know about the closure.
Collett has relied on the clinic for his prescriptions. He requires five shots of insulin each day for his diabetes.
"If your prescription is running out, they tell you to get in touch with your VA provider and have them renew the prescription," said Collett. "If the clinic is closed, there's no way you can get in touch with them."
Christopher Alexander with the Department of Veterans Affairs said the current contractor, the Washington-Harris Group, had challenges meeting and keeping staff at the clinic.
The clinic even temporarily closed in July because of staffing issues.
"We felt that in order to provide the high quality of care that our veterans need and deserve, we thought the best way to do that is move forward with a new contract in the future," Alexander told 6 News.
State Sen. Ken Yager, a former Roane County executive, was a driving force to get the outpatient clinic into the county back in 2010.
Yager said the Department of Veterans Affairs has been inadequate in overseeing the current contractor and believes it all could have been avoided.
"To say I'm distressed is quite an understatement because I think it's so unnecessary that this has happened," said Sen. Yager.
In the meantime, department officials said they are doing whatever they can to ensure veterans receive the care they need. Getting that care will be harder for many, considering the nearest veteran outpatients clinics are in Cookeville and Knoxville.
"This is just a lose-lose situation for the veterans in the area," said Sen. Yager.
The Department of Veterans Affairs hopes the clinic will reopen under a new contractor.
But it could still take another nine months to a year before the clinic would reopen.
State Rep. Julia Hurley said Monday she plans to meet with VA officials in Nashville next week to discuss possible options for the clinic.
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