VA breaks ground on massive health system expansion

"After eight years of planning, we finally get to turn the dirt," Pryor told the crowd at the ceremony.

Doris Cassidy, public affairs officer for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said the addition will cost $62 million and the federal government is covering the cost thanks to U.S. Rep. John Boozman as well as Pryor and his colleague U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln.

"Congressman Boozman was so visible in the project, always calling to check where our progress was at," Cassidy said.

She added that Pryor and Lincoln were also big helps but that Boozman really lead the charge when it came to securing the funding for the expansion.

According to a press release from Boozman's office, the addition allows the eye clinic and the dental clinic to be located in the same building as other medical services provided by the VA as well as more space for specialty clinics - such as podiatry, orthopedics, urology, nuclear medicine, MRI, a women's clinic, outpatient surgery, patient education, nutrition counseling - and access to social work and mental health counseling. The availability of these specialty services in Fayetteville will prevent the need for local veterans to go to Little Rock.

Pryor said at the groundbreaking that the clinic shows that the Department of Veterans Affairs is recognizing a reality - that there are more veterans in need of medical assistance now than there were 10 years ago.

"In the last 10 years the number of new patients this facility has seen has tripled," Pryor said.

Cassidy confirmed this, stating the Fayetteville center has seen an increased number in patients. She said there were around 17,500 patients treated in 1998 and in 2009 the hospital serves around 48,000 veterans.

"We need a place to put all these people," Cassidy said.

She also pointed out that the new construction and clinic will bring around 200 jobs to the area, a big plus during the tough economic times. Cassidy said when the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences opens its Fayetteville campus, it will give the clinic a chance to use doctors from the school.

Construction on the addition is slated to be finished in December of 2011.

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