After years of delays, local military veterans and their families learned Tuesday the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic on Westwind Drive in Bakersfield will be replaced with a new $40 million, state-of-the-art facility.
In a press conference convened at his Bakersfield office, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, flanked by veterans, veteran advocates and local politicians, announced that a new clinic will be built in northwest Bakersfield, near Olive and Knudsen drives.
“It says a lot about the character of a nation in the way it treats those who have defended its freedom,” McCarthy said before a crowd gathered outside of his local office.
Th VA's Community-Based Outpatient Clinics are not owned by the federal government, but are leased to private companies.
The VA was expected to make a lease award for the new Bakersfield CBOC in January 2016, but was informed by the California High Speed Rail Authority that the site selected for the proposed clinic was directly in the path of the newly revised high speed rail project alignment, forcing the VA to start over.
On Friday, the VA announced it awarded a $39.7 million lease to San Diego-based SASD Development Group LLC to construct a new 30,100 square foot clinic in Bakersfield.
“It’s taken a long time, but finally it looks like we're going to get’r done," said U.S. Air Force veteran Randall Dickow, a longtime volunteer with the Kern County Veterans Collaborative, a nonprofit veterans advocacy organization.
It was 2010 when Congress authorized replacing the aging structure, which opened in 1992.
After years of false starts and more waiting, the VA revealed in late August 2017 a solicitation for offers on local properties to build a replacement clinic. But advocates had seen that before and were skeptical.
Several plans to build a new facility have made their way through the bureaucratic process, only to be scrapped.
The VA has acknowledged the clinic on Westwind Drive lacks the capacity to provide all the services that are needed. As a result, some veterans must travel to VA hospitals in Southern California for treatment that should be available in Bakersfield.
According to the VA's office of construction & facilities management, the contract better aligns the procurement with other federal agencies and the private sector, with an emphasis on increased competition, cost savings and speed to market.
The VA “is excited to move forward with a new clinic where we will serve more veterans with some upgraded services to address key areas like mental health, women’s health and homeless services," Robert McKenrick, executive director of clinical care for the VA’s Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, said in a statement.
The projected date to open the new clinic is still uncertain, but McCarthy said he expects ground to be broken on the 30,000-square-foot building within a couple of months.
Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh said it’s a great day for Bakersfield, Kern County and the tens of thousands of veterans who are served by the local clinic. According to the VA, by 2026 the new clinic will serve a projected veteran market of 208,722.
At Tuesday's press conference, several individuals were asked to say a few words, including former California Assembly Member and current state Senate candidate Shannon Grove; state Assembly Member Vince Fong; County Supervisor Mike Maggard; City Council Member Ken Weir; Afghanistan combat veteran Zachary Reese and others.
Vietnam veteran Tony Martinez, who said he was affected by spraying of the infamous Vietnam-era defoliant Agent Orange, said he must drive to Sepulveda in Southern California for much of his VA care.
“This new facility is not only going to help me, it’s going to help all our veterans,” he said.
This story has been updated to attribute information to the VA's office of construction & facilities management. The source was previously misidentified.