Gulf Coast Veterans Given Access to Navy's Pensacola Hospital, as VA Seeks Ways to Treat More Patients

Naval Hospital Pensacola laboratory
Hospitalman Lincoln Brown, a laboratory technician assigned to Naval Hospital Pensacola, prepares blood samples for laboratory testing using a centrifuge. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Carter Denton)

Veterans on the Gulf Coast as of this week will now have access to same-day outpatient surgical care at a new Department of Veterans Affairs clinic located inside the Naval Air Station Pensacola hospital, according to the VA.

The VA and Defense Department came together to launch the clinic, which will serve an estimated 37,000 people. The collaboration comes as the VA says it continues to search for ways to accommodate an increasing number of veterans, while also trying to tackle its own aging health care facilities and cost-cutting efforts.

"Partnering with the local DoD hospital increases veteran access to VA care, helping us meet the needs of the growing number of veterans in our area who entrust VA with their health care," Stephanie Repasky, director of the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System, said in a press release.

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The VA said in August it enrolled 113,719 veterans in its health care during the first year of the landmark PACT Act, which expands care for illnesses related to burn pits, Agent Orange and exposure to other toxic substances.

Meanwhile, the department requested a record $4.1 billion earlier this year for construction to update aging hospitals, some more than 100 years old.

Until now, veterans on the Gulf Coast who needed surgery either saw community providers or had to travel to Mississippi's Biloxi VA Medical Center, a two-hour drive for patients based in Pensacola.

The VA has already begun scheduling surgical procedures for patients in Pensacola. Surgical care at the facility will include orthopedics; podiatry; ophthalmology; urology; and ear, nose and throat.

"This partnership will help VA provide more care, more quickly, to more Gulf Coast veterans -- as close to their homes as possible," VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Shereef Elnahal said in the release. "Establishing partnerships like this is an efficient and often cost-effective method for VA to increase veteran access to care, while helping to modernize the veteran health care experience."

Patients won't have to reschedule their appointments, but their scheduled surgical procedures will automatically be rescheduled at the new location, according to the VA's press release. Patients can ensure their contact information is up to date for schedule changes on the VA's appointment management website.

A similar collaboration was recently announced in Oklahoma, where the Cherokee Nation and Eastern Oklahoma VA system agreed to provide a VA clinic inside the Cherokee-run Vinita Health Center.

The Vinita outpatient clinic, which is expected to open around the new year, won't include surgery, but Native and non-Native veterans will have access to primary health care.

Under the PACT Act, which expanded public-private partnerships, the VA also reached agreements this year with Stanford University for a new cancer research center, and Penn Medicine to modernize Pennsylvania's VA infrastructure and improve clinical partnerships.

Related: VA Asks for Historic $4.1 Billion for Construction as Agency Weighs Closing Some Aging Medical Facilities

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