Soon, veterans living in and around Hobbs will no longer have to make the grueling trip out of state, or many hours away, to receive the care the need.
A new veterans clinic has a location planned, and has the green light to begin renovations in April. The project was placed on the “fast track” and completion is expected within a year.
“This was a big part of why I ran for this office and what I campaigned on,” stated Hobbs City Commissioner Dwayne Penick. “Our community is too big and our soldiers have given too much to not receive the care they need at the times they need it.”
According to statistics from the Veterans Medical Center in Big Spring, Texas, there are approximately 6,000 veterans living in Lea County.
“I almost can’t put into words how excited I am for our veterans,” Penick said. “For more than 20 years our veterans here have been kind of pushed aside and not really been given the care that they need.”
City of Hobbs director of communications Meghan Mooney agreed.
“It’s a game changer for our veterans because it means they will no longer need to make the long commutes to Big Springs or Albuquerque to receive care,” she said. “They’ve given so much and they deserve quality healthcare at a convenient location.”
Penick has been working on bringing a veterans clinic to the Hobbs and Lea County area for around a year, and has written four letters to President Donald Trump, spent more than eight months talking with Congressional representatives at the national and state levels, and various personnel at the Veterans Affairs Department. Eventually, one of the letters made its way to the president’s desk, and the project was sanctioned.
“Andrea (Todd-Goff), who is head of the Trump campaign here in New Mexico, has been a big help,” Penick said. “She’s been instrumental in helping with this. She sent it on three different times.”
New Mexico being identified by the president as a battleground state during this election cycle might have helped the project get attention, once his office noticed the need. Penick said he received the news from one of the president’s secretaries on Friday that the clinic had been approved.
“She said, ‘We got a call from somebody pretty high up that told us he received your letter and we need to get this ball rolling, and get the problems taken care of for our veterans in Hobbs.’ I was on cloud nine all day yesterday and still am,” Penick said.
And, while the clinic is a huge first step, Penick hinted it is just the beginning of things to come.
“We still have a long way to go, because this is a clinic, not a hospital. But, it is another step in getting our veterans taken care of,” Penick said, noting he has been in contact with representatives from area hospital groups in order to provide hospital services to veterans who are recommended it from the clinic — once the veterans clinic is complete and operational. He also said that transportation can be an issue for some veterans in trying to get to the care they need, and he is in talks to resolve those problems as well.
“We have 70 and 80 year-old veterans who can’t make the trip to Albuquerque or make the trip to Big Springs, so we’re trying to get a van here as well, for the ones (who can’t make the journey).” Penick said.
The clinic, which will be housed in the former Bealls’ location at 1201 N. Turner St., will be about 11,000 square feet. Veterans will receive the same healthcare services that would be available to them at any other healthcare clinic.
In addition to the new veterans clinic, Penick was also instrumental in the soon-to-break-ground veterans memorial. Penick estimated he has put in more than 100 hours on the project — not only drawing up the plans for the memorial, but also presenting the plans to the commission, and has spearheaded the project from the beginning.
“I’m dealing with the architect on getting (the site plans) drawn up. Right now, we’re about three months out from receiving the construction documents to break ground on the new veterans memorial,” Penick said.
Penick serves on the Hobbs Veterans Memorial Committee, West Text Veterans Affairs Committee, is the Veterans Representative on the Hobbs Census Complete Count Committee, and serves on the Lea County Veterans Memorial Committee.