KERNERSVILLE, N.C. - When you're not feeling well or need to get surgery, the last thing you want to do is drive more than an hour away. However, that's what many veterans have had to do.
According to the VA, the Triad has the highest concentration of veterans in the state. Within a few years, a Veterans Health Care Center in Kernersville will be only a few minutes away.
"I'm so thrilled to have this opening here because it gives us the opportunity to have a state of the art facility here without having to travel so far," Veteran Jimmy Hailey said.
Veteran John Ronchetti added, "We have a lot of young people coming back now that really need help, both physically and mentally."
Right now, the area is just a pile of dirt. Crews are about to transform the empty space into a state-of-the-art facility. It will be a four-story structure with nearly 2,000 parking spaces. The center will offer everything from dental care to mental health to surgical procedures.
Veteran Allen Ferry said, "I'm anxious to see what's going to happen with the veterans that come home. They'll be able to have this facility for their use."
This is one of three similar centers going up around the state. The other two are in Fayetteville and Charlotte. Two VA outpatient clinics in Winston-Salem will close when the Kernersville center is ready. All of the staff will move into the new building.
There are nearly 800,000 veterans in North Carolina. Every year, more and more veterans need health care. So, is this Kernersville center ready to handle all that growth?
"When I got into the VA system, it was 13 months from the time I first had my interview to the time I got to some facilities to take care of my health care...Our veterans deserve better," Hailey said.
Last year, staff at the clinic and annex in Winston-Salem treated about 24,000 veterans. When the new Kernersville Health Center opens, staff will be able to care for 30,000 veterans. Plus, the facility will offer more comprehensive care including surgery, dental, and prosthetics.
"We have a pretty fair confidence that the size of this facility is adequate for the size we will have in 2016," Dan Hoffmann, VA Mid-Atlantic Health Care Network Director, said "You don't want to overbuild and have too much empty space at the beginning, but you want enough to be able to handle the immediate growth into the next five to ten years."
The director said the VA studies how many veterans are in the area right now and how many are expected to need care five or ten years from now. This is critically important because the number of veterans needing health care in our state climbs every year.
In addition, this new center will take some of the strain off the Salisbury VA Center. In 2011, staff treated about 84,000 patients. Last year, that number jumped to more than 91,000.
The Kernersville Veterans Affairs Health Care Center will open in 2016. It will be located at 1750 Kernersville Medical Parkway.