VA Clinic Expands At PineBrook

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BROOKSVILLE – Up until recently, some mental health patients at the VA Community Clinic on Cortez Boulevard communicated with psychologists in Tampa via two-way television monitors.

“Obviously, that’s not ideal,” Leonard Orban, chief medical officer at the Brooksville clinic, said Friday.

A second psychologist, Guillermo Cadena, joined the clinic staff last summer, but space was so tight he was relegated to a file room.

Now Cadena, the other psychologist and support staff are seeing patients in a 1,100-square-foot suite in the PineBrook Medical Center. The medical center has housed the clinic for the last 10 years. The mental health division expanded into the suite in November.

The consultations via television are no longer necessary.

“It’s nice to have the whole team together in one space,” Cadena said. And, he added, “It’s more private.”

Officials will celebrate the new space with a ribbon cutting at 9 a.m. Friday, Dec. 11.

U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite will be on hand.

The Brooksville Republican pushed for funding for the extra space, as she did for the clinic’s first expansion in 2004, to ensure reasonable wait times for appointments as the county’s veteran population grows.

“The need is there,” Brown-Waite said in an interview last week.

In 2005, the Brooksville clinic had 19,773 visits. That number jumped to 23,909 in 2006 and climbed again to 26,000 last year.

Brown-Waite, whose 5th Congressional District has the second-highest number of veterans of any district in the nation, said “today’s warriors” need to be considered, too.

“We have to remember we have (military personnel) serving in Afghanistan and Iraq and they’ll be coming back and needing services,” she said.

Orban, the PineBrook chief medical officer, said the wait time for appointments is 30 days or less in most cases. Wait times to see a psychologist have dropped in the last two months since the expansion, he said.

In addition to a second psychologist, the clinic also recently added a fourth physician and a nurse case manager. Two more nurses and three additional clerks also will come on board soon, Orban said.

He also hopes to add a third psychologist.

Adding several staff members would have been difficult or impossible without the expansion, he said.

“We were packed to the gills,” Orban said.

The clinic had operated with roughly 8,000 square feet since 2004. Officials limited the most recent expansion to 1,100 square feet so as not to surpass a total square-footage of 10,000.

Expansion beyond that requires Congressional approval and oversight and must be included in the VA’s Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services, or CARES, program.

The program, established in 2004, acts as a guide for where the VA will invest in capital projects to provide additional medical services.

It can be a lengthy process, however, and Brown-Waite and other officials wanted to make sure the Brooksville Clinic got at least some extra space as soon as possible.

The Brooksville clinic is one of five community-based clinics under the auspices of James A. Haley Veterans Hospital that provide primary care and behavioral care services so veterans don’t have to travel to Tampa.

The other four clinics are in Zephyrhills, Lakeland, Kissimmee and Sanford.

New Port Richey has a larger outpatient clinic that provides more specialist services than the community clinics. Veterans from Hernando County visit that 40,000-square-foot facility for a full range of primary and mental health care and laboratory services, as well as access to an array of specialist services such as orthopedics, radiology and dermatology.

Brown-Waite said that she fielded many complaints about waiting times at the clinic after she was first elected in 2002.

Now she receives hardly any and said she plans to work with the VA to help it stay that way: Her office is currently compiling data on expected growth in Hernando and surrounding counties that Brown-Waite said will show a need for a new clinic in Brooksville.

It could be as large as 30,000 square feet and built by 2011, she said.

“My job is to convince the CARES Commission of that,” Brown-Waite said. “I think veterans will help me.”

If You Go

WHAT: Ribbon-cutting for the expanded Brooksville VA Community-based Clinic.

WHEN: 9 a.m. Friday, Jan. 11.

WHERE: PineBrook Medical Center, 14540 Cortez Blvd., Brooksville.

CONTACT: 352-597-8287.

Reporter Tony Marrero can be reached at 352-544-5286 or

Gang Presence On The Rise

SPRING HILL – The teenager with the red handkerchief

across his face dances for the camera, keeping time to

a beat only he can hear.

As he bobs and postures for the camera, his hands began

forming intricate signs and signals, including the word


The 17-second video ends with the teen pointing an

imaginary gun at the camera and squeezing off several


That’s what chills Detective Pete Ciucci.

He collected the footage during a “knock and talk” not

long ago at the teen’s Spring Hill home. A tip that the

teen was carrying a gun led him to the house and his

mother invited the detective inside.

She gave him permission to look through her son’s room.

There were no weapons, but Ciucci did find bead

necklaces, an ashtray covered in gang signs and a

closet full of mostly red and black clothes.

The detective also noticed a digital camera and asked

the teen if he could flip through the pictures. As he

did so, he came across video footage of the teen

“stacking” or flashing his hand signs.

“Can you do that for me again?” Ciucci asked as he

flipped on his own camera.

Though alarming, the video captured that night was

nothing more than a footnote in a new chapter for

Spring Hill.


Historically, there have only been a few pockets of

gang members in Hernando County. They mostly kept a low

profile and were considered more of a nuisance than a


But things have changed.

The teen Ciucci recorded wasn’t arrested that night

because it’s not illegal to be a gang member. But

within a few days, he was charged with aggravated

assault for attempting to run over a rival with a car.

That is a crime.

There are other signs that the gang presence is


Within the past month, a man was stabbed in the arm by

a rival gang member. The suspect in the guerilla knife

attack was aiming for the chest and missed.

Ciucci said a marijuana grow house busted at 4456

Chamber Court last week had ties to gang members.

Teens gathering outside bowling alleys, movie theaters

and parks are exchanging complicated handshakes. One

teen told Ciucci he wouldn’t go to Beacon Theater alone

on a Friday night for fear he would be jumped by the

rival gang.

The fights spill out into the street. Neighbors will

call and say there are packs of kids facing off at a

certain intersection that borders a territory. Deputies

will race over with lights and sirens and the

confrontation dissolves as the suspects flee and

discard baseball bats and other weapons.

They’ll claim it was just a get together, Ciucci said,

but their body language tells you differently. That and

the gang tattoos on a bare chest.

Territorial graffiti is flaring up again. On Wednesday

night, Delta Woods Park on Deltona Boulevard was the

target. Most of the letters and symbols are

incomprehensible to the uninitiated, but Ciucci knows

what it means when the Crips spray BK about their rival

gang: Blood Killer.

“This is not Compton or Miami, it’s more loosely

organized,” Ciucci said. “But we’re still pulling guns

and drugs off the streets.”

When Ciucci took the post as the gang detective for the

sheriff’s office four years ago, his job mostly

entailed giving talks to school kids about not falling

into gang activity.

Now he has 200 people at any given time on his radar

believed or known to be gang members. That doesn’t

include the friends or associates that hang out with



But are these real, documented gang members or just

teens up to no good?

A little bit of both. Spring Hill hosts its own gang

chapters, such as the Pinehurst Crew and 20 Deep. In

today’s Internet age, it’s easy to learn all of the

handshakes, signs, colors and philosophies of notorious

gangs such as the Crips and Bloods.

There has also been an influx of hardcore gang members

to Hernando County that are spreading their street

knowledge and bolstering ranks. One person proudly

proclaims he has been with Piru Bloods since he was


“It’s alarming because they’re not trying to hide it,”

Ciucci said.

But anyone posing as a gang member has to realize that

there will come a time when they will be tested. If

confronted by a genuine rival, they can either run or

assert their membership in the gang. That’s a big step

towards becoming a documented gang member.

The National Gang Crime Research Center has been

tracking gang trends for 17 years. Its director, George

Knox, finds that crackdowns on gangs in major cities

drive the members to small counties like Hernando.

“The natural tendency is to move where they can operate

in impunity,” he said.

Lockup in a juvenile detention facility or the county

jail also exposes budding gangsters to dedicated

members. A conversation is struck up about a gang

tattoo and the rest is history, Knox said.


It’s not all bad news.

School resource officers have made “a serious dent”

towards preventing violence in the schools and spotting

dangerous trends, Ciucci said.

Detectives in the Major Case and Vice and Narcotics

divisions openly communicate with Ciucci if they

suspect gang activity is tied to their case.

But largely it’s the information pipeline from the

street that keeps Ciucci busy. Street sources are

calling to say where a fight is brewing, who has hits

out, people to keep an eye on.

And not everyone dabbling in gangs is headed towards a

lifetime of crime. Sometimes Ciucci informally counsels

his informants and it pays off. “I just got a call from

guy who wants to give me some information,” Ciucci

said. “I asked him what he wanted in return and he said

nothing. He just started thinking about what I told

him, that he could go to prison for life and someone

else would raise his kid. That stuck in his mind.”

Why The Liberals Want The US To Lose The War In Iraq

Why the liberals want the U.S. to lose the war in Iraq

This past week convinced me that the left, especially the Democratic Congress, does not appreciate the fact that we are at war. When one is in a war, one attempts to amass as many allies as possible. It may be that some of these allies have significant moral differences.

A good example was the Soviet Union during World War II or Saddam Hussein during the war between Iran and Iraq. The adage, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” holds true.
During World War I, the Ottoman Empire, Turkey, killed over a million Armenians. Today, we call that genocide.
Our Congress led by the Democrats picked this particular time to announce to the world how wrong that was and passed a resolution in a committee. Now the speaker, Ms. Pelosi, is trying to have the entire House pass this resolution. As a result, Turkey has recalled its ambassador, and is massing troops on the Iraqi border to deal with Kurdish rebels who conduct raids across the border into Turkey. Much of our supplies to support our troops in the war in Iraq pass through or over Turkey.
Why would our Democratic-led Congress pick this particular time to bring up this issue? There is only one reason — to make it more difficult for the U.S. to win this war in Iraq.

Sen. Harry Reid has declared that the war is lost. Rep. John Murtha has accused Marines of murder before any investigation, and investigations have proved that he was wrong.

Sen. John Kerry has accused our troops of acting like terrorists in the dead of night. Sen. Richard Durbin has likened our troops to the worst in the Pol Pot regime, the SS in Germany and the Gulags in Russia. Sen. Ted Kennedy has said that Abu Grahib is under new management and is no different than when Saddam ran it. The current resolution is merely another ploy to make it more difficult to win this war, especially since the surge is doing so well.
Since the left has done so much to make it more difficult to win this war, then they will be unable to revel in any type of victory.

Therefore, they must do whatever is necessary to ensure that victory does not occur. There will be many who do not agree with me, but just look at the facts. Who has been denigrating our military, who is constantly portraying nothing but bad news, and who insists that incompetence is the norm in the running of the war? The answer is always the same — the liberals and leftist lawmakers.

As of Wednesday, the Turkish parliament has authorized cross border attacks into northern Iraq against Kurdish rebels who have been raiding into Turkey. The Turkish prime minister has stated that an attack is not eminent. Since we are showing such little regard for an ally, that ally may just do the same.

Don Myers is a retired Marine colonel living in Spring Hill. He is a columnist for Hernando Today.