History might play big role in future of VA

Now that the officers' quarters on the VA grounds are on the Most Endangered Historic Properties list, outside funding might be available to upgrade the facility.

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The Department of Veterans Affairs, as it should, puts the bulk of its resources (our tax dollars) into caring for veterans.

But that means in areas such as Walla Walla, where some of the buildings at the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial Veterans Affairs Medical Center are more than a century old, the infrastructure hasn't received the proper attention.

That's unfortunate, because maintaining older buildings, particularly those with historical significance, is important.

No, it's not more crucial than caring for the health of veterans, but it is nevertheless meaningful.

As the nation ponders how to best care for veterans in the future, the condition of the old buildings at the Wainwright facility have become an issue. It is expensive to upgrade old buildings, particularly those built between 1858 and 1888. The oldest buildings on the VA grounds, which once was Fort Walla Walla, are the officers' quarters.

That history has to be a consideration in future plans for the VA Medical Center and its grounds.

This week two buildings in Walla Walla County _ the officers' quarters at the VA and the 1865 Preston-Shaffer Milling Co. building in Waitsburg _ were listed on the Most Endangered Historic Properties list. The list was developed by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.

``I think it's high time,'' said Walla Walla City Manager Duane Cole, later adding that the listing ``raises the profile'' of the historic buildings.

It is critical that historical significance be considered in future plans for the VA grounds because once a building is gone, it is gone forever.

And if the historical significance is considered it could be a boon to the effort to keep Wainwright functioning as a full-service medical center. It boosts the chances outside funding can be obtained specifically to preserve the historic buildings. Those additional funds could make it more cost effective for the federal government to upgrade the facility.

History could be an ally for Walla Walla and the area's veterans as the federal government charts the future for the Wainwright Medical Center.

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