Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System
Newest VA medical center opens for Louisiana’s Veterans
By Chris W. Cox
Friday, November 30, 2016
The Veterans Health Administration reached a historic milestone Nov. 18 in New Orleans when Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System celebrated the opening of the new Veterans medical center on a bright, unusually warm morning.
Hundreds of Veterans, family members, government officials and current and former VA employees from across the nation began gathering in front of the medical center’s main entrance as early as 8 a.m. in anticipation of the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new facility.
As part of the celebration, a joint military color guard with service members from the Louisiana National Guard, Marines, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard helped open the event. For many of the Veterans in the crowd, seeing younger versions of their brothers and sisters in arms helped SLVHCS demonstrate its understanding of the value of their sacrifice and service.
“Our program today is a celebration; an awakening,” said SLVHCS Medical Center Director Fernando O. Rivera during the ceremony’s introduction. “We’re here today to formally celebrate the return of a VA Veterans medical center and bringing back hospital care to the thousands of heroes who live in southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast region.”
“This is indeed a very special day for many of us as it reflects the vibrant character and strength of New Orleans, as well as southeast Louisiana’s commitment to our Veterans,” he stated. “It conveys the sure message that we are a dedicated and determined team with much perseverance and passion for Veterans and the care that they so richly deserve.”
Rivera was joined on the ceremony’s stage by Catholic Archbishop Gregory Aymond; New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu; West Point graduate and Army Veteran, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards; Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who was trained by VA doctors as part of his medical education; VHA undersecretary David Shulkin; VA secretary Robert McDonald; and Bill Detweiller and Larry Jones, the co-chairs for the local My VA Community Council. Landrieu was the first to speak after Rivera’s brief introduction.
“First of all, as so often has been said, freedom is not free,” he began. “The cost is borne every day – sometimes by the ultimate sacrifice and sometimes by pain and suffering that lingers after duty is done and families and individuals live with that for the rest of their life. Fernando said it really quickly, if you fight for the country, you should never have to fight for first-class health care. So this building, in so many ways, is a testament to a promise made and a promise kept.”
The new medical center, once it is fully operational, will allow Veterans to receive complex care closer to home with fewer personal expenses and significantly less inconvenience for themselves and their families.
More than a day just for Veterans, this ceremony marked a significant event in the lives of SLVHCS employees too. Many of the current and former employees in attendance worked at the old Perdido Street VA hospital before and during the storm, in its aftermath or in the years spent building up to this day. Their anticipation for this moment was visible, according to Shulkin.
“Just look at the pride on our staff’s faces, how happy they are that they have the resources now to perform their duty and mission to serve Veterans. People have been waiting a long time, but no one has been waiting longer than a gentleman I got to meet this morning,” he said. He and McDonald met many Veterans before the ceremony, but one in particular made an impression.
107-year-old Lawrence Brooks in his front-row seat has been receiving VA health care in New Orleans since 1945.
“Now that it’s opening, it feels wonderful. It feels great,” said the World War II Army Veteran.
This new facility in New Orleans is now the newest physical representation of America’s promise to care for Veterans’ health and welfare in exchange for the honorable service they performed when they were younger men and women.