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The VA opens a veterans health clinic in East Tampa's Sabal Park area

The exterior of the Tampa VA's new clinic in Sabal Park.
Stephanie Colombini
/
WUSF
The clinic can serve up to 3,600 veterans. It currently offers primary care, mental health, social work, and dietetics.

The clinic shares space with a MacDill Air Force Base health center, part of a growing partnership between the military and the VA.

A new satellite clinic run by the Department of Veteran Affairs in East Tampa's Sabal Park is open for veterans to get primary care, mental health support and other services.

It’s part of a growing partnership between the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense.

Officials from both agencies celebrated the Sabal Park clinic’s grand opening during a ceremony on Monday.

In the last year, the VA reported nearly 33,000 veterans in Florida signed up for health care. Many of them live in the Tampa Bay region, which has one of the largest veteran populations in the U.S.

“It is always a challenge to have capacity meet that ever-growing demand, but it is our obligation to catch up to that demand as much as possible,” Dr. Shereef Elnahal, VA Under Secretary for Health, said at the event.

Dr. Shereef Elnahal, VA Under Secretary for Health, attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the VA's new Sabal Park clinic on May 13, 2024, in Tampa.
Stephanie Colombini
/
WUSF
Dr. Shereef Elnahal, VA Under Secretary for Health, attended a ribbon cutting ceremony for the VA's new Sabal Park clinic on May 13 in Tampa.

The clinic can serve up to 3,600 veterans and will eventually expand offerings to include laboratory services, pharmacy consultations, nutritional support and social work assistance.

It’s on the same site as another clinic run by the 6th Medical Group with MacDill Air Force Base that serves active duty military personnel, their families and retirees. In 2020, the Defense Department planned to close that facility as part of a national restructuring of its medical clinics. Instead, the agency teamed up with the VA to share it.

“For us it’s a win-win-win,” said Maj. Gen. Thomas Harrell, director of the Defense Health Network Central. “A win for veterans able to get to access to top-quality care in a convenient location, a win for our military providers who can maintain their medical skills while providing top-notch care, and a win for our entire community here knowing that our Tampa-based retirees and veterans are receiving the care they richly deserve.”

The Tampa VA's Sabal Park clinic offers primary care services to up to 3,600 veterans.
Stephanie Colombini
/
WUSF
The Tampa VA's Sabal Park clinic offers primary care services to up to 3,600 veterans.

Tampa's James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital and its clinics serve more than 120,000 vets in Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Polk counties. The hospital is one of the largest in the VA system and has one of five polytrauma rehabilitation centers that treat complex wounds.

The next step in the partnership with MacDill, according to Tampa VA executive director David Dunning, will be for VA doctors to train Air Force medical workers in handling severe injuries and other intensive care situations, so that they’re more prepared if they get deployed to combat zones.

For now, Dunning said he’s “excited” veterans in Hillsborough have another option for care in between the outpatient clinic in Riverview and the main hospital and primary care annex in the busy University area.

“Veterans won’t have to travel to the main facility where sometimes parking is an issue, and other times it's really a lot of traffic up in that area and some of our veterans are older,” he said. “So we want to make sure we keep them in the most safe environment and get them the care closer to home.”

David Dunning is executive director of the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital and clinics. He said VA doctors can share their experience treating complex injuries with active duty medical personnel who may not have encountered those types of wounds yet.
Stephanie Colombini
/
WUSF
David Dunning is executive director of the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital and clinics. He said VA doctors can share their experience treating complex injuries with active duty medical personnel who may not have encountered those types of wounds yet.

Also located in the Sabal Park complex is the Tampa Vet Center, which offers nonmedical counseling and other support services to veterans, including those who aren’t enrolled in VA health care.

The Tampa VA is also preparing to replace its existing clinic in Lakeland with a new 120,000-square-foot facility that's about five times larger. The clinic is scheduled to open in July and will offer a range of specialty services on top of primary care, including optometry, CT scans and MRIs.

Millions more veterans now qualify for VA health care due to the PACT Act, a law signed in August 2022 that expanded eligibility to vets exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange and other toxic substances.

A provision of the law also made it easier for the VA and Defense Department to share medical facilities, said Elnahal, who touted the 176 resource-sharing agreements in place around the U.S., including one at Naval Hospital Pensacola.

“It is a no-brainer for us to work more closely with DoD to be able to serve more veterans than ever before across the country,” said Elnahal.

Learn more about the PACT Act and how to get care on the VA's website or by calling 800-698-2411 (TTY: 711).

Copyright 2024 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.