By Jason Allen

GARLAND, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – An old hospital that started the year vacant, reopened Tuesday for veterans.

The new Garland VA Medical Center is expected to serve as many as 8,000 veterans, making primary care more convenient and easing crowding at the VA’s main campus in Dallas.

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In addition, the new facility will retain its ability to be used as a COVID-19 relief center, with more than 200 beds available if there is a need to decongest the Dallas Medical Center.

Staff inside the Garland center Tuesday were already handling virtual appointments and telemedicine calls with veterans.

Garland VA Medical Center (CBS 11)

The VA said more than 34,000 veterans live within a 30-minute drive of the facility, which Baylor Scott and White donated to the Veterans Affairs in April.

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“The number one challenge Dallas VA has had for a long time has been the lack of space, and the inability to expand services and keep care timely inside our own walls,” said Director Stephen Holt.

The relief offered by opening up more primary care services in Garland, will let the VA expand specialty care in Dallas, Holt said.

In-demand services like vision care and chiropractic can be expanded, allowing the VA to recapture millions of dollars of care that some veterans were having to seek outside of the VA.

The Dallas VA originally rushed to prepare the facility for overflow COVID-19 patients in April, but it was never needed.

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Holt said it can be ready again within 24 hours, to handle patients with less acute symptoms, and open up space for more serious cases at the main campus in Dallas.