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Senators, congressmen, Veterans Administration officials and most importantly veterans gathered July 30 to celebrate what 1,153 enrolled veterans already knew: The new Southern Prince George's County Community Based Outpatient Clinic has opened, just outside the gates of Joint Base Andrews.

The 10,000 square foot facility located at 5801 Allentown Road in Camp Springs is the fifth CBOC operated by the Washington, D.C. VA Medical Center, joining community clinics in Southeast D.C., Fort Belvoir, Va., Greenbelt, Md. and Charlotte Hall, Md., and a Community Resource and Referral Center in downtown D.C. for homeless and at-risk veterans.

“We're changing the way we deliver health care in the VA,” said Brian A. Hawkins, Director of the D.C. VA Medical Center.

As the fourth clinic in the region to be co-located with a military health center, the Southern Prince George's County CBOC is expected to increase, “the continuity of the coordination of care,” said Network Director, VA Capital Health Care Network, Fernando O. Rivera. “We're very happy about that. The leadership at Andrews has changed a couple of times (since the new clinic was in its planning stages), but it has never wavered. I can't tell you how proud I am of this moment and of your service to our veterans and our nation.”

Primary Care Physician Michael P. Villaroman, MD, of the D.C. Medical Center, CBOC, said that the health care team at the new clinic was selected, “based on their passion and commitment to treatment for veteran-centered primary care in a community setting where many veterans live.”

Prince George's County is home to approximately 65,000 veterans, the largest veteran population in the state of Maryland.

Keynote speaker Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) spoke of the debt all Americans owe to those who fight for our freedom.

“We talk a lot about how proud we are of the men and women who serve in our armed forces. They've made incredible sacrifices; some of them are on their fourth or fifth deployment to Afghanistan; their whole families have (sacrificed). We all say we are proud, but we're doing something about it here at this VA facility,” Cardin said. “The dental service that will be provided here is the model of the nation.”

Cardin called special attention to the four dental operatories at the new clinic, which are scheduled to be in service by September, providing oral health maintenance, diagnostic and most treatment services close to home for so many veterans. For Prince George's County residents in particular, Cardin remarked, affordable, convenient and accessible access to basic dentistry is a hallmark of quality medical care in part because of the memory of a young Prince George's County resident, Deamonte Driver, who lost his life due to an untreated oral infection in 2007.

“We didn't want to see that happen again,” Cardin said of Driver's death at age 12. “Since Driver's death, 70 percent of Maryland Medicaid families are getting active dental care for their children. As (former Surgeon General C. Everett) Koop said, 'You're not healthy without good oral health.'”

The new facility already provides primary care, comprehensive women's health care, audiology, nutrition, mental health and other preventative care. The Southern Prince George's County Community Based Outpatient Clinic will be the first CBOC in the Washington, D.C. area to provide dental health services. The clinic is expected to serve a caseload of approximately 2,400 veterans.

Cardin also called attention to the clinic's emphasis on total health care for female veterans.

“For too many years, we didn't do right by our women in health care. That's a fact. We have to make up for what we didn't do in the past. It's the right thing to do, and you're doing it here. You're making a difference,” Cardin said of the new CBOC.

Though Cardin praised the new clinic for “state-of-the-art” medical care and record keeping practices, he indicated that health care remains in crisis on a national level.

“Our growth as a nation depends upon fixing it. If we don't, that's self-inflicted wounds,” Cardin said, to applause. “We have to live up to our commitments to our vets, out children, and to energy independence, so we don't have to fight wars for oil. People around the world look to what we're doing here in America. We've got to continue to be that strong nation. That's more important than partisan differences.”

Self-described “Air Force brat” Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD District 4) spoke of her family's experience. Her father, who retired from the Air Force out of Joint Base Andrews with 100 percent service-connected disability, “had to get into his car and drive all the way around the Beltway, or have someone else drive him, every time he needed medical care,” Edwards said. “It was a personal drain on him in his failing health.”

Edwards also spoke of her brother, a veteran who died at age 26 because of complications due to an oral infection not adequately cared for through the VA health care system of the time.

“We will embrace (the new CBOC), we will grow it, we will grow the partnership we have with Joint Base Andrews to serve all our veterans,” Edwards said.

After a ribbon cutting ceremony, Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD); Primary Care Physician Michael P. Villaroman, MD, of the D.C. Medical Center, CBOC; Edward Chow Jr., Secretary of the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs; an unnamed member of Congresswoman Donna Edwards' staff; Network Director, VA Capital Health Care Network, Fernando O. Rivera; Ross D. Fletcher, MD, Chief of Staff of D.C. VA Medical Center and Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD District 4) toured the Southern Prince George's County Community Based Outpatient Clinic under the guidance of Brian A. Hawkins, Medical Center Director, D.C. VA Medical Center.