The Veterans’ Administration health clinic in Santa Barbara will soon be moving its specialty services to Santa Maria.
The VA said the site has not yet been chosen for the new clinic, which will offer specialty services such as optometry, podiatry, dermatology and dentistry. Primary care will still be available to veterans at the Santa Barbara clinic as well as the Santa Maria clinic. The new clinic will cost between $6 million and $10 million and should be completed within a year and a half.
Ellery Price, chair of the Veterans Coordinating Council, said the new clinic will be in Santa Maria because of the high price of land in the South County and a shift in the population of the county’s veterans.
“The VA is saying that the demographics have changed,” Price said. “More people are moving to the North County because it’s cheaper to live there.”
The search for a site for the new clinic began 10 years ago, Price said. The VA originally planned to build the clinic on Hollister Avenue near the Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital, but was hampered by legal issues. Since then, the price of land in Goleta has skyrocketed and several vacant lots have been developed.
“The bottom line is they’re not going to build a new clinic in Goleta,” Price said. “The VA can’t find the land to build on and even if they did, it would probably be too expensive.”
Price said the VA would provide bus transportation for veterans who cannot drive themselves to the Santa Maria clinic. The VA will also provide referrals to local civilian doctors for veterans who cannot commute to Santa Maria at all.
“People who are 80 years old shouldn’t have to drive 80 miles to receive health care,” Price said. “Even a bus ride can be strenuous at that age.”
Several local veterans have said they are upset because they will have to go to Santa Maria to receive specialty services and because the VA did not consult them about the site.
“Not one single veteran was talked to about it, and now they say it’s too late to find a site in Goleta,” said Lane Anderson of the Disabled American Veterans and Veterans for Peace. “It’s not just Santa Barbara veterans [who are upset about the new site] but veterans in the outlying community as well. It’s been the best clinic in the area for several years now.”
Price said the veterans’ complaints are valid but the VA is working to make the new location as convenient as possible.
“I’d rather have a new clinic here, and it should have happened a long time ago, but hopefully everything will work out,” Price said. “I think they’re angry because they were promised something and then it didn’t happen.”