Groundbreaking signals federal government kept its promise

The nation owes veterans access to quality health care.

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Generally, ground-breaking ceremonies for government projects are more fluff than substance.

But when dirt was ceremoniously turned by dignitaries on Tuesday at the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial Veterans Affairs Medical Center it was an important moment. It means the federal government is actually keeping its word and upgrading the local VA hospital.

In 2004 the Wainwright facility was targeted for closure, stirring outrage by veterans throughout the region as well as this community. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and then-Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Spokane, took up the cause. They worked together to ensure veterans in Eastern Washington, Eastern Oregon and Idaho didn't lose access to the medical care they had earned through their service to the nation.

Over the years, Murray was joined by Nethercutt's successor, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, in the fight to save the facility and upgrade it.

When Congress finally approved the plan to build a new outpatient clinic and residential recovery unit we cheered the decision yet remained skeptical construction would ever begin. Approving a plan and actually getting the funding for construction are not necessarily the same thing.

We said at the time that we would believe the federal government will fulfill its promise when the digging begins. Well, it started Tuesday when McMorris Rodgers and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., were among those who began - albeit ceremoniously - the project.

"It's a great example of success when you rally around a project," McMorris Rodgers said.

The new construction will consist of a two-story, 67,000-square-foot $22.1 million outpatient clinic on the west end of the campus behind the 1921 hospital building. It will consolidate clinical, administrative and support functions into one facility.

The 36-bed, $5.6 million recovery unit will be about 22,000-square-feet and located in the southwest corner of the campus. It will include a 12-bed wing dedicated to women's care.

The Wainwright Medical Center serves about 65,000 veterans in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, she noted.

"This is a day I thought would never come," said Buzz Logan, a member of local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 992.

We, too, had the same feeling. We're happy to see our concern was unfounded.

The local VA hospital is an important part of medical care for veterans living in this region. The nation promised them quality medical care and is finally taking action to deliver on that promise.

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