WALLA WALLA — A bevy of federal, state and local officials turned out Tuesday to dedicate a new facility that will provide medical care to hundreds of local veterans.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., led the celebration of the $71.4 million building at the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The facility will serve as an outpatient clinic for primary, specialty and mental health care services.
The dedication capped more than a decade of work by community leaders who were spurred to action in 2003 when a federal commission recommended closure of the Wainwright medical center. Murray said the community response resulted in not only having the center taken off the closure list, but led the VA to invest in new buildings and new facilities.
“And that’s really why I’m so proud to be here today,” Murray said. “Because the facility we’re here to open reflects the commitment this country, this community, and all of you have made to our veterans.”
Murray recapped how local veterans and civic leaders “testified in front of panels ... wrote to your elected officials, and when I held a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing here, you packed the room, you packed the hallways, and you even packed the overflow room — just to show how much this facility means.”
“Together, we went from losing this entire facility and having vets drive to Spokane and Seattle for care to taking it off the closure list. And from there, we have fought to increase the funds to maintain and expand the current buildings, which includes building a new, 36-bed rehab unit that opened last year and now opening a 67,000 square foot state of the art health care facility to take care of our vets.
“That is what I call a successful effort,” she said.
Along with Murray, the dedication featured aides with Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers reading letters of support, remarks by VA officials, presentations by city of Walla Walla Mayor Jerry Cummins and remarks by Don Schack, past commander of The American Veterans.
Among those in the audience was Tim McCarty, who took over chairmanship of the local task force from Duane Cole, former Walla Walla city manager, who was also recognized at Tuesday’s event.
“If it weren’t for all the things people did 10 years ago, this would be a ghost town,” McCarty said. “This could have been nothing, but now it’s really something.”
Following the dedication, Murray drove to Wallula where she toured the Railex Wine Services center. Murray helped secure funding for the rail lines that serve the center and an adjoining produce facility.
Built in 2013, the 500,000 square foot facility has the capacity to hold 5 million to 6 million cases of wine.
- Walla Walla Union Bulletin