ZEPHYRHILLS — At long last, the new Veterans’ Administration Clinic in Zephyrhills, which had a groundbreaking ceremony in 2019, was targeted for a May 16 opening. A symbolic ribbon-cutting took place May 6 at the 14,000-square-foot facility at 37827 Eiland Blvd.

Taking place on the same day that many people around the world tuned into the historical coronation of King Charles III in the United Kingdom, one of the speakers at the local event offered a different perspective.

“If I get a choice of being at a ribbon-cutting for our veterans or at a coronation, I’ll be at a ribbon-cutting for our veterans all day,” said Joe Battle, James A. Haley Veterans Hospital’s former director, who labeled veterans as “sacred.”

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, the scheduled keynote speaker who pushed strongly for federal funding to get the clinic built, was unable to attend due to the recent passing of his brother. Dr. Emmanuel Bilirakis worked at the VA Clinic in New Port Richey.

“This truly represents a huge win for the local veteran community that has been waiting for years,” David Dunning, JAHVH’s executive director, read on the congressman’s behalf. “I am so proud that we can open the doors to this facility. Many services that veterans need are now under one roof.”

“We care about the veterans and our nation,” said Maj. Gen. James Hartsell, who served for 37 years as a U.S. Marine and now is the executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans' Affairs.

Numerous services provided to veterans at the new facility, which replaces the old outpatient clinic off U.S. 301, include audiology, physical therapy, podiatry, a pharmacy, women’s health, telehealth and others.

Pasco County Commissioner Ron Oakley noted the need for hospitals and veterans’ clinics: “As we become more and more of a premier county, we have to have these services for our seniors and our veterans.”

Among the color guard members at the ceremony, Terrence Dunne earned special praise during the ceremony. He is a Vietnam veteran with five purple hearts and a bronze star.

Another veteran, 74-year-old George Bishop who is wheelchair-bound and had a career in the Air Force, passed out pamphlets before the ceremony.

“I’m proud to be a part of this,” said Bishop, who did two tours in Vietnam and one in Thailand.

In all, some 1.5 million veterans live in Florida. The new facility will primarily serve veterans in east Pasco.