Aiken VA clinic opens Monday

Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
The new VA outpatient clinic in Aiken expects to serve 5,000 veterans from three counties during its first year of operation.

AIKEN --- Friday morning's rain didn't dampen the mood. More than 100 people crowded inside the new veterans' clinic in Aiken eager for a glimpse of the facility, which opens Monday.

The Community Based Outpatient Clinic at 951 Millbrook Road will provide outpatient medical care to about 19,000 veterans in Aiken, Edgefield and Barnwell counties.

"I can't think of no group more deserving," said Mayor Fred Cavanaugh, who served in the U.S. Air Force.

Officials with the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta started making plans for an outpatient clinic in Aiken about five years ago, but opening a VA clinic took an act of Congress, which finally happened in May 2007.

Mary Snelling, the facility's manager, said plans for the clinic have "been on a fast track" since the federal government's approval last spring.

"This is going to make it a lot more convenient for veterans to get health care right where they live," said Ms. Snelling, a registered nurse who has worked at the veterans hospital in Augusta for 28 years.

The clinic's opening couldn't come soon enough for local veterans whose only choices for medical care were the VA hospitals in Augusta or Columbia.

Leo Passmore, of Aiken, a 21-year veteran of the Marine Corps, has been making the trip to the Augusta hospital since 1997.

"This is going to be great," he said. "It's close to my home. I can get here in just a few minutes."

Guy Haff, also a retired Marine, said the clinic will make it easier for veterans living in the northern, more rural parts of Aiken County

The clinic will open at 8 a.m. Monday with a staff of 17, who expect to serve 5,000 veterans in the first year of operation.

The 10,000-square-foot clinic will provide primary health care and mental health services to veterans.

Reach Michelle Guffey at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or michelle.guffey@augustachronicle.com.