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Tampa VA is building new mental health center for veterans as part of a broader expansion

 The 137,000 square foot facility should start welcoming patients for mental and behavioral health services in 2024.
James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital
The 137,000-square-foot VA facility should start accepting patients in 2024.

The center in Temple Terrace will serve as a one-stop shop for veterans experiencing mental and behavioral health issues. The VA is also starting to build a health clinic in Lakeland.

The James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital is starting two major expansion projects in the greater Tampa Bay region. Officials broke ground on a mental health center in Temple Terrace on Tuesday and construction will begin on an outpatient clinic in Lakeland on Thursday.

The 137,000-square-foot mental health facility will consolidate a number of behavioral health services into one location, including general therapy, post-traumatic stress disorder treatment, suicide prevention and substance abuse treatment.

It will also include 60 beds for inpatient rehabilitation services and feature programs that address the needs of specific populations including women, senior citizens and homeless veterans.

Stephanie Colombini
WUSF Public Media
Temple Terrace Mayor Andy Ross, left, Tampa VA director David K. Dunning and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor attended the groundbreaking ceremony in Temple Terrace.

The center will replace and expand on three smaller mental health programs on and off the Tampa VA's main campus.

The goal is to make it easier for veterans who require multiple types of care, according to David K. Dunning, executive director of the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital.

“It's very rare that a veteran has one issue if they're seeing mental health between homelessness and substance abuse and all those other issues,” he said.

Dunning spent more than 30 years in the Army and said he has had to sit down with families to inform them when soldiers died by suicide.

“Just watching that pain across the table and knowing there are things we can do to where that family doesn’t have to go through that pain; and that veteran, we can bring him back in and contribute to the community,” said Dunning.

Having the center in a location away from the main campus will also give veterans experiencing mental health issues more privacy, added Dunning, as some veterans worry there is a stigma associated with asking for help.

Stephanie Colombini
WUSF Public Media
The center offers a multifaceted approach to treating mental health issues, says David K. Dunning, executive director of the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, attended the groundbreaking and says the project is important because research shows veterans are more likely than civilians to experience serious depression and PTSD.

“So, we know we need to do more to support their mental health, and with this new facility and clinic we're going to take a very important step to do just that,” she said.

A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for the Lakeland clinic on Thursday. The outpatient facility will be about six times the size of the VA’s existing facility in that community and will offer primary care and some specialty services.

Officials say construction on both clinics should wrap up next year, with doors opening to patients in 2024.

The hospital is also preparing to open a new bed tower at the main hospital in Tampa and a clinic in New Port Richey this year.

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Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters, WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.