BRUNSWICK, Ga. — When the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs opened an outpatient clinic in Brunswick in October 2010, it predicted the clinic would serve the medical needs of as many as 5,000 veterans annually.
The goal was to be ready to provide medical services to the estimated 5,000 while preparing for an higher number — as many as 8,000 — who would be calling on the center in time.
That hasn't happened. As it turns out, fewer veterans are visiting the clinic than initially projected. Usage is less than 50 percent of what Veterans Affairs officials had anticipated.
Officials at the clinic say 2,480 veterans are currently enrolled to receive services there.
Frank Jordan, public affairs officer for the Brunswick clinic, says the smaller number is likely because of a lack of awareness among veterans.
He says many veterans might not know they are even eligible for treatment at the clinic, at Summit Plaza, 1111 Glynco Parkway, Glynn County.
The clinic offers primary medical care, mental health, social work, audiology, optometry, podiatry and prosthetics, as well as pharmaceutical and dietary counseling.
"Anything they can't get at the Brunswick clinic, they can get at the Dublin clinic," Jordan said of the Carl Vinson Medical Center, the VA hospital at Dublin which operates the Brunswick clinic as a satellite facility.
Jordan says some veterans are unaware that they don't have to have been in the military as a career to qualify for treatment at a VA clinic or hospital.
"When veterans inquire, they often find they are entitled to benefits they were not aware of," Jordan said. "Things change from year to year in the VA."
Jordan says he is working on ways to get the word out about the services offered at the clinic and who is eligible. "We really need veterans to come," he said. "We're under capacity. We're not sure the word's getting out."
Veterans Affairs also operates clinics at St. Marys in Camden County and at Waycross in Ware County. It's in the process of preparing to open another in Liberty County, where Fort Stewart Army base is located.
Despite the disappointing turnout, Jordan says the clinic continues to add new services, including audiology and telephone consultation services, in which a patient and doctor can discuss medical issues without being in the same clinic.
Jordan says Veterans Affairs is also working with local hospitals to provide treatments to veterans with health problems that can't be handled at clinics.
The Carl Vinson hospital at Dublin is about 180 miles from Brunswick.