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Adirondack vets welcome local VA clinic

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Veterans in the Tri-Lakes are should get relief soon from long drives for medical care. New York Veterans Administration officials were in Essex County last week to announce plans for a new clinic in Saranac lake, and relocation of the existing clinic in Elizabethtown. That old clinic will remain in Elizabethtown until a new location is found. The Saranac Lake clinic is the result of years of lobbying led by one local vet, Frank Karl. Martha Foley has more.

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The news of the Saranac lake facility was particularly sweet for one local veteran. Frank Karl is senior vice commander for the Saranac Lake VFW and also represents the American Legion on veterans' issues throughout the region.

Several years ago, Karl noticed that a significant number of veterans called the Tri-Lakes region home. He learned that many of those vets weren't able to make the 45-minute plus trip to the closest VA clinic, then in Elizabethtown. "So the need was definitely there," Karl said. "And we started working. We went around and got the names and addresses of all the people that would be covered and found out that in the area, there's over 4,500 vets."

After compiling database of veterans in the region, Karl began lobbying officials in Albany for a clinic in Saranac Lake. Karl says the process took time, but eventually officials responded --  and last April began hinting that a center in Saranac Lake wasn't out of the question, "We went to a meeting in Elizabethtown and that's when they found out that yes, they were considering this area and redoing the Elizabethtown area."

Now, a little more than a year later, the clinic looks to be a reality - and Karl couldn't be more pleased. "Thank god after all this time that it's coming to fruition," he said. "And then when I found out that it's going to be at the Depot Street location that just added fuel to the fire. It's a good location, easily accessible and there's plenty of parking."

Albany VA Director Mary-Ellen Piche has worked with Karl through the years and says she's happy to see his work pay off. "Frank is a strong advocate for veterans," she said. "He's been advocating for us to have a presence here and we're this close to making it happen. He's been a pleasure to work with; he never lets down, he perseveres, he makes sure that we're doing all we can for veterans. And that's what it's all about."

Plans are in the works to find a new home for the Elizabethtown clinic, which is currently located at the Elizabethtown Community Hospital. VA officials hope a deal will be struck soon, but in the mean time assure veterans the current center will stay put.

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