VINITA, Okla. — Oklahoma veterans and congressmen are fighting to keep the Vinita VA clinic open.
“It’s really critical for us," said Philip Frost, a patient at the Vinita VA clinic.
The clinic serves more than 3,000 patients, many coming from surrounding communities. Closing the clinic could be a problem for many.
“This is a regular event for me coming over here," Frost said.
“This is a small community, but yet, the place is always packed," said James V. Heflin, commander of American Legion Post 40 in Vinita. "It always has veterans in there.”
Despite that high demand, it’s facing possible closure. Something these veterans, and Oklahoma congressmen, are not happy about.
U.S. senators James Lankford and Jim Inhofe, along with U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, sent a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough, saying they were surprised by the plans to close it. In the letter, they said recent leases indicated the lease here was renewed in October and was not set to expire until 2030. They also questioned why the VA did not reach out to the community or tribal leaders prior to the decision.
The closure is also upsetting staff and veterans. Staff told 2 News Oklahoma they haven’t been told much, including when it could be closing.
Current plans said the clinic will relocate to Claremore, which could be a problem for veterans in the community, especially those who don’t drive.
Another new clinic is planned to open in Bartlesville.
The VA says it will continue to look for a workable location in Craig County.
“You know when you get up so high in the business world, you don’t think about that 80-year-old veteran who makes it to Vinita," Heflin said. "But what’s he going to have to do when he goes to Claremore?”
Heflin is working with community leaders to get some answers about the closure and hopes to stop it from happening.
“You can’t fight big businesses is what I’m going to say," Heflin said. "We can try, but I know what the battle’s looking like right now. But we’re going to take it as far as we can go.”
The American Legion in Vinita is hosting a town hall to discuss the closure on Dec. 9 at 7 p.m.
2 News Oklahoma reached out to the Department of Veterans Affairs for comment and is still waiting to hear back.
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