It was 2010 when Congress authorized replacing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic on Westwind Drive in Bakersfield.

It's now 2018, and the aging clinic is eight years older. Yet little has changed.

Sure, the wheels of government move slowly. But some veteran advocates are wondering just how glacial it can get.

On Thursday, two principals with a company called Progress for Bakersfield Veterans LLC revealed their proposal to redesign and completely renovate the existing property, which they have owned for some 12 years.

"This is not an ordinary renovation," said Allen Hubsch, who was joined by his business partner Peter Cohen.

"It's not just a paint job," he said. "It's a brand new facility." 

The presentation, held at the Army National Guard armory in southeast Bakersfield, came at the monthly meeting of the Kern County Veterans Collaborative, a diverse group of nonprofits, agencies and volunteers dedicated to addressing the needs of local military veterans and their families.

Hubsch said he and his partners have worked with the VA, and have followed the hundreds of pages of guidelines in designing the facility. But he expressed frustration that the federal agency seems unable to pull the trigger and make this project happen.

"Their inability to get this done is a disservice to our veterans," he told the group of advocates. 

After years of false starts and more waiting, the VA revealed in late August a Solicitation for Offers on local properties to build a replacement clinic. But advocates have seen that before.

Nearly a decade ago, Congress authorized nearly $3.5 million for this lease, Hubsch told The Californian.

"I am not an expert on the legislative process, and so I am not sure what that amount was intended to represent or what it means today," he said.

The VA has acknowledged the clinic lacks the ability to provide all of the services that are needed. As a result, some veterans must travel to VA hospitals in Southern California for treatment. 

If it happens, the new clinic is projected to open in 2021, a decade after a new clinic could have been finished had the VA made it happen following congressional approval.

Dick Taylor, county veterans service officer at the Kern County Veterans Service Department, attended Thursday's meeting. He said it's clearly time for the VA to act, that local veterans need a new — or newly renovated — outpatient clinic.

Local veterans, he said, have waited through the last three presidential administrations for a new clinic. Several plans to build a new facility have made their way through the bureaucratic process, only to be scrapped.

"I am excited about the potential of finally having the VA clinic our veterans deserve," Taylor said. "Hopefully the Department of Veterans Affairs moves in a quick and concise fashion."

Hubsch and Cohen have developed floor plans and renderings of the interior and exterior of the proposed clinic. They have a general contractor, an architect and other partners — all local — who have bought into the proposed project.

The VA first told them they would only go to a new facility. But the agency has reversed that position, Hubsch said, and will now consider a quality renovation.

But should that not fly with the VA, Progress for Bakersfield Veterans has a second option in play, a proposal for a new building at Stockdale Towers on California Avenue, which the pair also own.

Unfortunately, the VA may be even more gun shy than ever. A scandalous multimillion-dollar cost overrun on a VA project in Denver has left the agency scrambling.

A message left at the public affairs office of the VA's Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System was not returned Thursday.

"We want to get it done," Hubsch said, and he asked those present to get involved. "We would like to impress upon people, if you have an opinion, express it."

Randall Dickow, the chairman of the veterans collaborative, seemed to reflect the views of many present when he used few words to make his point.

"Get'r done."

Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.

(1) comment

REMUDA

I have no problem with the current facility, where the principle feature is 'One-on-One' with my primary care Doc--she's the best of the best, as are the nurses, counter staff and all the folks in the back rooms. Initial evaluation is the most important, and whatever would add to the capabilities beyond Sepulveda or WLA should be illustrated in detail. The parking lot and wait lines are adequate as seen from my vantage and timelines. Afternoons are best for me as the traffic is lower, the wait in line shorter, and the trip home includes shopping stops along the way home 45 miles away, SW side. Major surgery (two hips--UCLA Docs) was outstanding at WLA (and told the world) and the last un-sedated colonoscopy down south was painless & the best and quickest I've ever had (drove home alone) by a VA Doc who invented it. My O/L health is kept max'd by my Westwind team. If the staff is unhappy with the current facility, it has never been expressed to me, and my contacts there have become friends. Renovation is less cumbersome and costly than relocation and shifting services...for what? "Pretty newness" vs. consistent reliability based on the local Vet population. If renovation improves staff efficiciency and comfort, good...as a patient I have never been uncomfortable at WW. Remember, taxes pay the tab, as well as copays, so some detail is missing in this article--not unusual for the Californian (a print media in jeopardy). Like to hear from Vets and facilitators (staff). 'Refreshing' is always a possibility, but then I come from the old 'splinterville' squadron spaces, prop aircraft and Essex-class carriers of two generations ago (1960's). The 'mission' isn't everything...it's the only thing...! MAGA...! Semper Fi...!

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