MOUNT VERNON, Mo. (KSPR) -- An update to a story we have been following.
Mount Vernon's Board of Alderman Tuesday has approved the lease for the city's Veterans Administration Clinic.
The City Administrator said the Veteran’s Affairs Office has not paid the full amount on rent for 15 months. He said the city has spent about $200,000 of taxpayer money covering the difference.
Tuesday city leaders decided to let the VA stay in the property. As part of the agreement, the VA will pay part of the past due amount which is $50,000. The City Administrator said the city of Mount Vernon will still lose $150,000 and because of this agreement the VA will not be closed down.
“Where are they going to go? Because the one in Springfield isn’t going to be open until next year. So are they going to send them to Columbia or Fayetteville, because that’s a little bit far?” asked Army veteran James Ahern.
A clinic on which many people rely for medical help may soon shut down. Its patients could be stranded and Mount Vernon city administrator Max Springer said it is because the Veterans Affairs Office will not fully pay its bills.
Springer said the Veterans Affairs Office in Mount Vernon has not paid the full amount on rent for 15 months. He said the city has spent about $200,000 of taxpayer money covering the difference and he wants it stop.
“I think the federal government should step up and pay,” Ahern said.
Veterans like James Ahern are shocked after hearing Springer say $200,000 of city taxpayer money paid for the VA Clinic in Mount Vernon.
“Why should civilians pay for something that the government promised the military when we got out and retired? Free medical,” said Ahern.
“That promise I think still needs to be kept,” said Navy Corps veteran Michael Chapman.
After 15 months of trying to get the VA Clinic to pay up, the city administrator said city officials are fed up and were even considering kicking out the VA Clinic.
“We were at that point. We didn’t have a contract and it didn’t seem like we were working toward actually getting a contract,” Springer said.
If that happened, veterans say it would be harder to get the help they need.
“The option is to drive to Fayetteville, Arkansas or Little Rock, Arkansas if there is anything wrong with you. That’s not very comforting if you think about it,” said Marine Corps veteran Michael Avants.
The city administrator said this month he called Missouri representatives and finally received this contract from the VA.
However, the city will still lose money.
“We still put in $150,000, which at this point we’ll have a new contract and we’ll move ahead,” Springer said.
“I think the federal government can step up and pay for it. If they can waste money on stupid stuff, this is important,” Ahern said.
The Mount Vernon Board of Aldermen is scheduled to decide on Tuesday evening whether to accept the new contract with the VA.
KSPR News contacted the public affairs officer with the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks, who is in charge of public relations for the Mount Vernon VA Clinic. Wanda Shull sent KSPR News the following statement:
“We appreciate the support from the City of Mt. Vernon as we worked collaboratively to finalize the lease agreement. VA would like to stress that continuity of care for the Veterans of SW Missouri will continue without interruption. The lease was sent to the City of Mt. Vernon on January 5, and they let us know they will hold on signing the lease until their Board of Alderman meet today, January 10. Once the lease is signed by the City, they will return the documents to VA Contracting for signature and execution. At this time, we cannot release any details of the lease as it is not signed. The VA could not increase the payment negotiated with the City of Mt. Vernon until the new lease was signed. Once it has been signed and executed, VA will then be able to work with the City to determine any payment discrepancies that exist. We are pleased to see this being finalized.”