COLUMBUS, Ga. — A group of retired veterans is taking their fight from the battlefield to the medical field. The local chapter of the Retired Enlisted Association, or TREA, hope to expand the number of facilities, services, and resources available for veterans in the Chattahoochee Valley.
The nonprofit military veterans organization’s latest fight doesn’t call for conventional weapons. Instead, the group is petitioning lawmakers to take a closer look at better access to VA benefits. American veterans put their lives on the line for freedom. However, many feel forgotten when they return home from combat.
“It ain’t that we want this,” Sgt. 1st Class Michael Burks said. “We need this. The aging and the elderly and the homeless veterans all need this hospital.”
Several members of TREA are calling for a new VA hospital, emergency room and nursing home. Burks, as chapter president, is leading the charge when it comes to bringing a VA hospital to the Fountain City. Currently, the VA has a clinic on 13th Ave. in Columbus. However, long wait times and a lack of emergency services have forced some veterans to drive all the way to Montgomery or Tuskegee.Burks says some local hospitals are apt to charge double what the VA would for medical care.
“They had the dollars to build a new Martin Army Hospital, and they had the money to put millions of dollars on the river rafting,” Burks said. “So you’re telling me we can’t get a VA hospital here and you care about the veterans? There’s something wrong with that picture.”
Burks says positive feedback fuels the fight for better access to health care and other benefits for veterans.
“For the services that we render, this gentleman should have never been homeless,” Columbus city councilor Jerry “Pops” Barnes, himself a veteran, said. “There should have been facilities here to look out for his every need.”
Fellow councilor Evelyn “Mimi” Woodson says the city and other entities have tried to improve conditions for veterans in Columbus. But she believes it will take a unified effort and more time to make a positive change.
News 3 spoke with the VA in Tuskegee. They tell WRBL they are planning to build a new 55,000 sq. ft. facility by 2021. However, it’s unclear whether this facility would serve as a hospital or make emergency services available.
Meanwhile, TREA has reached out to Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus), Sen. Ed Harbison (D-Columbus), and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal. The group plans to host a rally in the coming months.