Visiting the Quillen VA Center in Johnson City

A Day Away by Mike Steely

As most military veterans know, the most local VA medical services in Knoxville are at the W. C. Tallent Outpatient Clinic near West Towne Mall. There are related veteran-care health offices in and around the Downtown West shopping center nearby.

But for more serious medical treatment or exams, veterans are often sent to the James H. Quillen Mountain Home facility in Johnson City.

I’ve made that long drive many times for myself and my oldest son. It’s a long drive up Interstate 81 and often for only an hour or so at the Johnson City facility for a test or quick exam. Every now and then the Veterans Administration there will assign an exam or treatment to a non-VA doctor’s office in Knoxville. But that is infrequent and sometimes can take weeks or months to arrange.

I realized recently how little I knew about the Mountain Home hospital or the Tallent Center.

Veterans with sudden injuries or illnesses can now go directly to a local hospital for treatment with the VA usually authorizing treatment. Until that change a few years ago, the VA would have to approve of the emergency room visit.

More and more treatments and exams are now available at or by the Tallent Clinic here but many times a visit to Johnson City is required. The Tallent Center falls under the Quillen Hospital.

Having lived near the VA facility in Johnson City, I remember the hospital being known as “Mountain Home” and, before that, the “Mountain Home Branch of The National Asylum for Disabled Volunteered Soldiers.” Congressman Walter Preston Brownlow’s effort created the facility which was funded by Congress in 1901. The 450-acre site saw the creation of French Renaissance-style buildings. It opened in 1909 and, five years later, a national cemetery there was authorized.

Civil War Union veterans were cared for there and, in 1943, it was transferred to the Veterans Administration. The facility and the cemetery are on the National Register of Historic Places.

It was named for the late First District Congressman James Quillen and oversees veteran medical care at 15 locations serving 41 counties in Tennessee, Western Virginia and Southeast Kentucky area. Quillen was a Navy lieutenant during WWII and served in the Tennessee legislature and 34 years in the U.S. Congress.

One of those facilities is the clinic in Knoxville named for William C. Tallent, a Knoxville native who twice escaped as a prisoner of war in WWII and was awarded two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star. In later life, he was a leader of military service organizations.

I’ve got to say that coordination between the Knoxville branch and the Johnson City VA hospital is pretty good. In off hours, the phone to the local facility is answered in Johnson City and messages back to Knoxville are relayed promptly. If the veteran needs to stay overnight for an outpatient visit, the Johnson City VA hospital usually puts them up in a local motel there at no charge.

Yet the trip from Knoxville or other outlying VA branches is long and stressful. The Veterans Administration does pay, on application, some reimbursement for fuel. The Disabled American Veterans local chapter has a shuttle there and back with stops along the way to pick up veterans needing transportation.

Along the many trips up to and from Johnson City, we usually try to eat at a restaurant there before or after a medical visit to break the journey up a bit. Sometimes I’ll get out with my camera and visit a nearby attraction or park and get information for a Knoxville Focus story.

I’ve got to compliment the Veteran’s Administration in recent years—it has seemed to step up more in helping with medical visits and prescriptions. Many veterans can use the service at no charge and others – veterans with income and no service-related disability – are charged a small fee for visits and prescriptions.

If you are ever in the Johnson City area you may want to visit the Gray Fossil Museum just north of the city or drive back through Jonesborough, the oldest city in our state.