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Construction set to begin on Northern Virginia veterans care center

Northern Virginia veterans will soon have a new place to recover and retire.

A new Puller Veterans Care Center will be built on a 30-acre site at Vint Hill Road and Vint Hill Parkway in Fauquier County, just across the Prince William County line.

The one and a half story veterans center will house 128 veterans and will serve as a place to care for inpatient care for veterans going through medical rehabilitation and for those who have Alzheimer’s.

The duration of stays for veterans at the facility and those who are admitted will be based on the medical needs of the patient. Veterans needing memory care could conceivably spend the rest of their lives at the center.

The veterans care center is named after the Puller family which includes Marine Lt. Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller who fought in World War II, his son and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lt. Lewis Burwell Puller Jr., who served in Vietnam, and the recently retired former Virginia State Senator Toddy Puller, the ex-wife of Puller, Jr.

Construction on the center is expected to begin late this year, and an opening date for the facility is slated for late 2019.

The new VCC at Vint Hill is one of two other existing facilities in Richmond and Roanoke and a soon-to-be-built VCC in the state’s Tidewater region that will serve as rehab and retirement homes for those who have honorably served. State legislators fought for years to bring this center to Northern Virginia.

“For about eight years Virginia has continually applied to the Federal Veterans Administration for monies to do this because there’s a formula which in rough numbers is about 60% federal money and 40% state money to build a state veterans care center, but year after year after year of applying and not having our request filled that’s when both houses of the General Assembly, both branches of government meeting executive and legislative, and both parties said to ‘heck with this,’ Virginians are going to care for Virginians and we went on our own,” said Delegate Richard Anderson (R-Prince William).

The facility is expected cost $48 million, and Anderson said State leaders will attempt to recoup the 60% state monies spent on the project from the federal government. There is no ongoing funding for the VCC in the state budget, as the center’s operation is expected to be funded in full through patient insurers like Medicaid.

A veteran will not have suffered a combat-related injury to be admitted to the VCC. Only veterans, not their spouses will be allowed to stay and live in the new center.

Capacity 12 to 18 months 

The VCC has room to expand, with the possibility of adding up to 96 new beds on up to three wings that will not be built as part of the initial construction. The center’s initial 128 are expected to be full 12 to 18 months after opening.

“My guess I think those timelines as they talk about or a kind of a wish list. I think this facility will be much more quickly filled because there’s a tremendous need, and a density in Northern Virginia, and the number of veterans here, and the number of services that are needed by the veterans… believe me, it pegs the top of the needle at all times,” said Steven Botello, a veteran service officer at an American Legion Post on Cockrell Road in Manassas.

The initially planned construction calls for eight “households,” or wings of 16 beds each. Veterans in each household will receive similar care and take meals together. The center of the building will include an open-air common area to receive guests, to perform activities, and an eatery. The area outside the building will be used for events such as Memorial Day festivities and July 4th concerts.

Virginia Department of Veterans Affairs Deputy Commission Steven Combs told elected officials at a public meeting about the VCC Wednesday night at Manassas City Hall the agency will request more funds to hire employees for the new center. The VCC is expected to employ 160 people, the first of which, the center’s director, will be hired about a year before the center opens.

Transportation for vets a problem

Reliable public transportation for seniors to access medical care continues to be a problem. Some at Wednesday night’s meeting asked if more could be done to help vets get to their doctor’s appointments.

“Transportation for veterans in Woodbridge, and Prince William County, it’s horrific,” said Larry Williams, a Vietnam War veteran who lives in Lake Ridge. “On [Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission]…I can catch a bus, but if I have a VA appointment at 10 o’clock, I won’t get you to 1 o’clock. All I’m asking PRTC is it every other day or two times a week coordinate with Fort Belvoir with Quantico to say ‘okay these days you can catch a bus and go directly to a clinic at Quantico or go to Fort Belvoir.’ It’s easier for me to catch a slug in the slug line and get to Washington, D.C. to make a 9 o’clock appointment than it is for me it’s me to get a bus to go to Fort Belvoir.”

Currently, PRTC offers no local bus service from Prince William County to Fairfax or Stafford counties. Its commuter buses serve Arlington and Washington, D.C.

Prince William, Stafford, and Fauquier counties all competed to provide land for the new VCC free of charge. Prince William leaders offered a 25-acre site along Ashton Avenue.

Fauquier County won the bid because it was able to not only offer an initial 30 acres but more land for a future expansion of the facility if it’s needed.

Editor’s note: The Virginia Department of Veterans Affairs provided us with this presentation that given during the public meeting.

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