- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 5, 2014

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - A veterans care bill that Congress passed last week includes more than $13 million in funding to overhaul a Tulsa-based Veterans Affairs clinic that otherwise might have had to shut down in several years.

The $13.27 million would allow the Ernest Childers VA Outpatient Clinic the option to either pursue a lease for a new facility or build a new structure. Funding for the clinic was included in the veterans care bill passed by Congress last week to help veterans avoid long waits for health care and fix other problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill this week.

Before the funds were added to the bill, Oklahoma lawmakers said the clinic would have been forced to either spend money to bring the building up to code or close down by 2020. It also has had to offer several of its services off site because of cramped conditions at the main facility.

James Floyd, the medical center director of the Tulsa clinic, recently said the provision would allow his facility to consolidate all its services under one roof.

Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe said if the Tulsa outpatient center had closed, area veterans would have had to go to Muskogee or Oklahoma City to receive care.

“I cannot understate the importance of the Tulsa VA clinic funding for Oklahoma’s veterans,” Inhofe said in an email to The Associated Press. “Without it, the Tulsa VA clinic would have been forced to close its doors by 2020, leaving our Tulsa veterans to seek medical care from the already overburdened Muskogee clinic or travel to Oklahoma City.”

With the new funding for the Tulsa facility, the future Tulsa clinic can be more than 2½ times the size of the old clinic; would include specialty services such as cardiology and oncology, among others, and expand its dental services. Oklahoma lawmakers also estimate the new facility would have more employees, going from 183 to 337 workers.

The Senate easily approved the $16.3 billion compromise measure to improve veterans care last Thursday - a day after it was overwhelmingly passed by the House.

Among other provisions, the legislation also includes $5 billion to hire more VA doctors, nurses and other medical staff and $1.3 billion for opening 27 new VA clinics across the country.