On March 12 I received a call from the Muskogee Phoenix advising me that the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center could be closed. The reporter asked me what I thought about the closing. I told him I was very much opposed to the closing of the VA Hospital. 

I have been a patient of the VA Hospital since the early '70s. I receive my treatment at the hospital as a matter of choice. I have health insurance and I can receive medical care anywhere I choose. I choose to receive my treatment at the VA because I received multiple gunshot wounds in Vietnam. The VA hospital is uniquely qualified to provide my care. The doctors, nurses and staff are trained to care for persons who have been wounded. The team of health care workers at the VA who provide my care are excellent. Dr. Campbell, the nurse and receptionist on my team provide excellent care in a respectful and professional manner. The specialty clinics provide good care as well. Dr. Ford and others are great doctors. I have the utmost respect for all of them.

Our hospital treats a very diverse group of people. I suspect it serves as a percentage more Native Americans than any hospital in the VA Health Care System. It sets between the Cherokee and Creek Nation and serves the Choctaw Nation all the way to southern border of the state. It also serves a large percentage of Black veterans. There are several black communities in its geographical area. Tullahassee, just north of Muskogee, is the oldest Black city in the state of Oklahoma. The hospital is named after Jack C. Montgomery. Montgomery was a Cherokee Nation Tribal member and Medal of Honor recipient. It was the very first hospital in the VA Health Care System to be named after a Native American.

The City of Muskogee and its citizens have a long and mutually beneficial relationship with the Department of Veterans Affairs. The citizens of Muskogee originally purchased the Old Railroad Exchange building and donated it to the VA. The VA Regional Office is located in Muskogee because of the caring attitude of the people. On Nov. 6, 1909, the city of Muskogee purchased the original 40 acres on Agency Hill and the Union Agency Building from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. The people of Muskogee designated the drive up the hill as Honor Heights Drive in Honor of World War I veterans. The original Veterans Administration hospital was built in that area. The VA Hospital currently employees hundreds of employees. The financial impact of the hospital on the city of Muskogee is very significant. The closing of the VA Medical Center would devastate employment opportunities in the area.

It was mentioned that one of the reasons that the VA was looking at closing our hospital is because of the age of a portion of the hospital. It is true the original building was built for World War I veterans, and the government purchased the city hospital that set adjacent to the original building to add to the Veterans Hospital in 1937. A new tower was built in the '80s. Through the years the VA hospital has been maintained in an excellent manner. I ran a business for several years that did sales and consulting with VA Hospitals. I have visited most of the VA hospitals over the time frame that I ran my business. Our hospital is as modern as many of the VA Hospitals I visited. There are a lot of historical buildings in the VA health care system. Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis; Wichita, Kansas; Waco, Texas; Pineville, Louisiana; Biloxi, Mississippi, and many others have buildings built in early 1900s.

The closing of the VA Hospital would leave the veterans served by the Muskogee VA medical center with at least an additional two hours (round trip) of travel to get to another VA hospital. Many of the veterans who are patients of the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center are older and it would be an extreme hardship to travel the extra distance. Those veterans in extreme Southeastern Oklahoma already travel 2.5 to 3 hours to get to the hospital. In many communities, there is no urgent care facility for them to access. Many would be unable to afford to get their care at and urgent care even if it was available.

I encourage all the veterans in this area to stand up and voice your opinion concerning the closing of the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center in Muskogee. Let’s keep our hospital open. I have no desire to travel to another VA hospital to secure my medical care.

The motto of the Department of Veterans Affairs is a statement made by Abraham Lincoln: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” Making it more difficult for veterans to receive their care surely is not what our greatest President had in mind when he made the statement in his second inaugural address.

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