The Associated Press April 10, 2011, 5:55PM ET

Move for smaller veterans mental health clinic

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is taking steps to create an out-patient mental health clinic in Fort Wayne, with a budget request for $2.85 million in the coming federal fiscal year and a projected opening in March 2015.

It's greatly scaled back from a now-scrapped 2009 plan for a $60 million, 200,000-square-foot veterans health facility in Fort Wayne.

The new plan calls for a 27,000-square-foot facility.

An aide to Republican U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman of Indiana said that the congressman and his staff have been talking about the project with officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Stutzman chief of staff Tim Harris told The Journal Sentinel that the project is "in the early stages."

The 2012 budget request includes $1.49 million for design and construction costs and $1.36 million for annual rent.

"It's our understanding it's a very positive step that it is where it is," said Harris. "That doesn't mean it's a done deal.

"Where it is, we understand, is a good sign. What this says is the Fort Wayne facility has moved up on the priority list."

At a hearing last Tuesday of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Stutzman asked department officials where the project stood.

"It is our experience that on sizable projects such as that, it's typically better to construct new in order to get the functionality and capabilities and meet energy requirements," said Robert Neary, acting director of the department's Office of Construction and Facilities Management. "If there were a facility available in the area, we would look at it."

Neary said that after the project is authorized, the department must search for and identify a site, obtain a purchase option and award a development contract for the clinic to be built and leased back to the VA for 20 years.

The Department of Veterans Affairs said in its 2012 budget proposal that it expects an increasing demand for mental health services even as the number of war veterans in the region declines.

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Information from: The Journal Gazette, http://www.journalgazette.net


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