Last updated: May 08. 2013 12:10AM - 3014 Views

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U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, on Tuesday introduced legislation requiring Veterans Affairs Medical Centers across the state to report incidences of infectious diseases to the appropriate public health officials. There are more than 100 VA Medical Centers nationwide, including eight in Pennsylvania: Altoona, Butler, Coatesville, Erie, Lebanon, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre.

The Wilkes-Barre Veterans Affairs Medical Center has announced it is seeking proposals from health care providers in Wayne and Pike counties to serve veterans in the northern Poconos. It will soon advertise for proposals to do the same for veterans in Northumberland and Snyder counties.

The VA serves veterans in an 18-county swath of Northeastern and North Central Pennsylvania.

In the past, the VA opened its own clinics on the outskirts of the service area, which are staffed with VA employees. But now, the VA is rethinking the clinic model.

Gail Ziegler, a spokeswoman for the local VA, said it opted to go with a new model — contracting with existing health care providers — to provide services to veterans in select rural regions without compelling them to travel more than one county away. It also will not force the VA to expend money to construct or purchase buildings and then pay to staff them. “We want to make sure primary care is closer to our veterans,” she said.

The VA is hoping an existing practice in Wayne or Pike counties will be able to provide a proposal that will help local veterans receive primary care, mental health, and women’s health services in a location closer to home, she said. The specific solicitation for those interested in bidding on the contract can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/c6lhx7w

“We’ve heard from the veterans of Wayne and Pike counties; this is something that they want and need,” Ziegler said.

Margaret B. Caplan, director of the VA Medical Center, said, “This is a promise we made to the veterans of Wayne and Pike counties, and I am very pleased we are moving closer to completion of that goal.”

The hope is that a contract can be awarded this year and the practice will begin offering services to veterans in January, Ziegler said.

In addition to the VA Medical Center in Plains Township, the VA owns and staffs clinics in Tobyhanna, Bangor, Sayre, Williamsport and Allentown, and it contracts with a provider to provide services at a clinic in Berwick.

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