By Brooke Stevenson
It doesn’t seem like opening a Veterans Hospital in the old Fort Sanders hospital building will be a reality.
Despite the desire of Tennessee Helping Hearts to have a Veterans Hospital and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder clinic in the old hospital building, Veterans Affairs says they will not be involved in the project.
Teresa Miller, President and Chairman of Tennessee Helping Hearts, has been trying to raise interest in turning the old hospital into a Veterans Hospital and PTSD clinic.
She and her organization also have a want to turn the PTSD clinic into the first of its kind in the county.
“We though of having a PTSD treatment center where a solider could go right to the clinic and meet his family there,” Miller said. “The first couple of days would be activities and then we would gradually put them into therapy along with their family.”
Miller believes that the idea Veterans Hospital and PTSD clinic hasn’t moved forward because of the lack of enthusiasm Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters has shown for the project.
“We are trying to get the mayor to at least rethink his stance and give us some time to get Veterans Affairs in there to at least look at the building and give us their opinion,” Miller said.
The remaining patients in the hospital building will be transferred to the new facility in early May. Miller does not want Mayor Waters and the County Commission to promise the space to any other entity.
Miller says that Sevier County needs a short term stay PTSD clinic to serve the more than 7,000 veterans in the area. The closest Veterans Hospitals are in Johnson City and Murfreesboro.
“Driving to Johnson City is just too far for our local veterans and out visiting veterans to travel,” Miller said.
Even though Miller believes Mayor Waters is holding back the hospital idea, whatever his stance on the project is may be a moot point.
VA Public Affairs Officer Judy Fowler-Argo said Veterans affairs has no plans on building a Veterans Hospital in Sevier County.
She said that a Care Study has been conducted by the VA for the purpose of realigning health care services for veterans and several sites with a significant veteran population were identified.
Sevier County was one of the sites chosen to get an outpatient PTSD clinic within the next two years.
“What Teresa Miller and Tennessee Helping Hearts are proposing is not associated with the VA,” said Fowler-Argo. “We have an in-house post traumatic stress disorder clinic in Johnson City and we have outreach clinics in Knoxville.
“We are serving the population through these two sources.”
Johnson City is about an hour and fifteen minute drive from Sevierville and Knoxville is about 48 miles away.
“We have our own PTSD stress treatment facility,” Fowler-Argo said. “When the clinic opens in Sevier County what we will be doing is leasing space for a clinic from the county and we will be providing mental health services in that clinic which will include treatment for PTSD.
“We would have no reason to come down and look at the Fort Sanders location for the Veterans Hospital because it is not our program.”
In Tennessee there are Veterans Hospitals in Johnson City, Nashville, Murfreesboro and Memphis.
“If Tennessee Helping Hearts is thinking that the VA is going to build a hospital, I can pretty much definitely tell you that is not going to happen,” Fowler-Argo said. “It wouldn’t be cost effective when we have the resources already available.”
She added that it is not out of the realm of possibility that the outpatient clinic would be located at the old Fort Sander’s Hospital, but it is not a guarantee either.
Hospital Won’t be in Works
By Brooke Stevenson