March 27, 2017 was Veterans Awareness Day at the Oklahoma State Capitol and I was privileged and honored to attend the Joint Session with my colleagues on the House Floor.
Major General Myles Deering and Colonel Pete Peterson both spoke eloquently at the Joint Session. General Deering said he knows of no other state in this nation that does more to honor those who have served and are still serving.
I appreciated Col. Peterson’s statement that legislators cannot sit on the sidelines when it comes to quality veteran care. He reiterated that we must stand up and do what is best for our veterans.
“Oklahoma has the best benefits package of any state in the nation,” Col. Peterson said. “We are the envy of the nation. When they start looking at legislation in other states, they ask for the laws that have already been passed in the state of Oklahoma.”
I believe that is something to be proud of and I believe it is something Oklahoma should continue.
Of paramount concern is quality of care, and the economic impact to a city or town must give way in the face of the debt we owe to those who have served our country and protected our freedoms.
It is true that there is a new hospital close to the existing veterans center in Talihina. This is a tribal hospital that draws from the already limited workforce in the area. The Choctaw Nation spent close to $1M to build housing to entice doctors to come to the area, which the Department of Veterans Affairs cannot do. Understandably, the surrounding limited workforce is going to be drawn toward accepting job opportunities in a shiny new hospital over an aging veterans center.
While we have appreciated the services of the Talihina Veterans Center through the years, the current veterans center is a designated historical building that requires ongoing numerous upgrades and repairs to accommodate not only historical preservation standards, but also the modern equipment and amenities of today’s standard of medical care.
I have seen the plans for the model and improved standard of care that is available to our veterans in a new facility. The small house concept meets the needs of all veterans regardless of mobility and will serve 10-12 veterans per home, providing for those veterans even with special needs such as Alzheimer’s, dementia or traumatic brain injury. The home is centered around a dining room, living room, den and kitchen. The small house concept offers each veteran a private room approximately 250 square feet with a full bath with handicap accessible shower. I am assured that we will not lose veteran beds; any new veterans center will house the same number of veterans currently housed in Talihina.
I can immediately see the numerous medical, psychological and familial benefits such a facility would provide, and am constrained to say that I support the new construction of a veterans center in a city or town that has a hospital and a larger workforce. If that turns out to be Poteau as the language in Senate Bill 544 suggests, then I certainly welcome the new veterans center to Senate District 4.
I am informed that the majority of the cost of building a new facility would come from the federal government, with about 35% coming from the state which would be paid for by bonds issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Basically, our choice comes down to the fact that we can put about $20 to 30M into a 100-year-old building that will continue to require upgrades, or about the same amount of money plus federal matching dollars into the construction of a brand new facility with state-of-the-art equipment.
Until next time,
Senator Mark Allen