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Florida Veterans Honored In St. Augustine As Congressional Panel Examines St. Johns County VA Clinic

Gregory Todaro

Gov. Rick Scott was in St. Augustine Thursday for a Veterans’ Service Award Ceremony.

At the same time as the ceremony, a Washington congressional panel was taking a look at problems with the St. Johns County Department of Veterans Affairs clinic.

The county and its veterans are frustrated over long, costly delays in the clinic’s relocation.

Scott awarded more than 300 medals to veterans at the Florida National Guard Armory in St. Augustine.

“We must take every opportunity possible to thank our heroes and tell them we hold much reverence for their service,” Scott said.

But some veterans at the event couldn’t help but think about the local VA outpatient clinic. A delay in moving the St. Johns County clinic has cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines against the VA.

Shawn Prentiss says she uses the clinic, and the lack of a plan is frustrating.

“It’s the unknown of where the clinic is going to end up is what is the hard part,” Prentiss said. “I feel [angry] about it, and I don’t really know how to deal with it.”

In response, Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis called a hearing to confront the VA about the delays.

VA representative Stella Fiotes testified the responsibility lies with her agency.

“We were late getting started, and for that we accept responsibility,” she said.

St. Johns County Assistant Administrator Jerry Cameron told the panel the county has offered to relocate the clinic near its veterans’ benefits office.

“When I said that St. Johns County stands ready to step up and provide this facility for the VA, I was told, and this is a direct quote, ‘That is not happening,’” he said.

The panel didn’t make any recommendations Thursday. DeSantis convened it to look at the St. Johns County in the wake of a national scandal over VA wait times led to the resignation of Secretary Eric Shinseki last year.