Vets Secretary sees rapidly growing caseload at Hampton VAMC, need for Southside facility


HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) kept his word from back in February, saying he’d return in May to look at the progress at the Hampton Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Overall he was pleased with the trend in wait times, and how the hospital is handling COVID-19 and getting veterans vaccinated.

Department of Veterans Affairs’ Secretary Denis McDonough joined Warner, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Newport News) and Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Norfolk) to tour the 158-year-old hospital Friday afternoon.

McDonough said although 2.5 million veterans have been fully vaccinated so far, not every veteran is willing to get the shot. And what Warner called “the never-ending journey” — the proposed additional clinic on the Southside — continues with little progress.

McDonough says supply of the vaccine is no longer a problem; it’s what he calls “harder to reach demand.” McDonough says instead of just fixed vaccination sites, the V-A will use mobile units for outreach, and they’re trying to overcome objections to the vaccine when it comes to reactions to the shot.

“In the more than 5 million doses that we’ve given, the reactions have been entirely manageable and straightforward,” McDonough said.

Warner said the Hampton staff is doing a “remarkable job” handling COVID-19. In February, he challenged the hospital to get its average wait times below 25 days. Today, the average wait times are now to 20 days, with mental health just 14 days.

McDonough says he realizes the veteran population in Hampton Roads is rapidly expanding, with the largest concentration of women veterans in the country. He says local veterans tend to be younger than elsewhere in the U.S.

When pressed about the long-awaited major clinic proposed for the Southside, McDonough would only say it was a priority with no further announcements.

“Chairman Scott, Ms. Luria and Senator Warner have been aggressively underscoring that we need to get this done,” McDonough said.

Scott says trying to attract medical professionals to Hampton will always be a tough sell when they can earn more in private practice. He is pushing the American Jobs Act, which he says, if passed, will provide significant funding for infrastructure for the Hampton VAMC and similar facilities across the country.

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