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October 26, 2017

Puller Veteran Care Center will open in 2019

Photos/Lawrence Emerson
Representing her family, for whom the veterans home will be named, Martha Puller Downs talks with Gov. McAuliffe after the ceremonial groundbreaking Thursday afternoon at Vint Hill.
It makes you feel good about the world when you see the trees and the spectacular view. Someone isn’t coming here to be forgotten in some dark place. You’re going to a beautiful paradise.
— Lynda Bird Johnson Robb
Groundbreaking
• For: Puller Veteran Care Center

• When: 1 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 26

• Where: 30 acres at Vint Hill Road and MacIntosh Drive in eastern Fauquier.

• Keynote speaker: Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

• Services: Nursing, dementia and short-term rehabilitative care for military veterans.

• Operator: Virginia Department of Veterans Services.

• Beds: 128.

• Cost: Estimated $48 million, excluding donated land.

• Staff: 150.

• General contractor: Whiting-Turner, Baltimore, Md.

• Architects: Wiley Wilson, Lynchburg; Orcutt Winslow, Phoenix, Ariz.

• Opening: Late 2019, two years after construction starts.

• Background: The state operates similar 400-bed and 240-bed centers in Richmond and Roanoke, respectively. The state will build another 120-bed center in Virginia Beach.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
The retired Army master sergeant can’t stress enough the importance of finally getting a veterans care center that will serve Northern Virginia.

“It’s a very big deal,” Bill Keys of Gainesville, a Vietnam War veteran, said Thursday afternoon before the groundbreaking ceremony for the Puller Veteran Care Center at Vint Hill in Eastern Fauquier.

About 200 people, including dozens of veterans, Gov. Terry McAuliffe and state and local officials, attended the event.

“We’ve got over 200,000 veterans in the area. It’s extremely hard for them to get the proper medical care,” without having to travel 40 miles or more to the nearest veterans’ center, Mr. Keys said.

Described as “state-of-the art,” the 128-bed Virginia Department of Veterans Services center will provide skilled nursing, Alzheimer’s/dementia and short-term rehabilitative care.

Jeff Dombroff, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam, praised the center because it will meet needs unique to service men and women.

“It’s going to be for veterans only,” said Mr. Dombroff, who lives near Opal. “It’s going to be staffed by people who understand their needs and the needs of their families.”

The effort represents nonpartisan politics and state and local government cooperation at their best, said Gov. McAuliffe, a Democrat.

Veterans honor Virginia and the country, he said.

“With that great honor, comes a tremendous responsibility . . . . Veterans are Americans who have served and worn the cloth of this great country and have put their lives at risk for us.”

But veterans who require the care that will be available at the Puller Veterans Center must travel to state facilities in Richmond or Roanoke, Gov. McAuliffe said.

“You know — and the veterans know — that’s a long way to go.”

The center at Vint Hill will honor late Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, one of the most decorated Marines in U.S. history, and his family.

Thursday’s speakers included Martha Puller Downs, his daughter.

In her family, “there was no greater calling than serving one’s country,” said Mrs. Downs, who thanked those responsible for getting the center approved.

Gen. Puller served in Central America, World War II and the Korean War before retiring in 1955. He retired to Saluda on Virginia’s Middle Peninsula and died in 1971.

His son, Lt. Lewis B. Puller Jr. lost his legs, left hand and several fingers on his right hand in 1968 while serving in Vietnam. Lt. Puller graduated from law school and ran for Congress in 1978. He died in Alexandria 16 years later, shortly after winning the Pulitzer Prize for his autobiography, “Fortunate Son.”

His widow, Linda “Toddy Puller,” won a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates in 1991 and the state senate in 1999. Sen. Puller sponsored the 2015 legislation to fund the two new care centers. She retired two years ago.

Mrs. Puller did not attend the ceremony because of poor health.

Former Virginia governor, U.S. Senator and Marine veteran Charles S. Robb had hoped to attend the ceremony but couldn’t because of a longstanding prior commitment, said his wife, Lynda Bird Johnson Robb.

“I think it couldn’t be a better place,” Mrs. Robb said of the site, which faces the Blue Ridge Mountains. “It makes you feel good about the world when you see the trees and the spectacular view.

“Someone isn’t coming here to be forgotten in some dark place. You’re going to a beautiful paradise.”

Veterans deserve that and more, added Mrs. Robb, daughter of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

“We should give back to them because of what they gave to us.”

Expected to cost about $48 million, the center will employ 150.

Baltimore-based general contractor Whiting Turner will begin construction in early 2018, with the center opening in late 2019.

Designed by architectural firms Wiley Wilson of Lynchburg and Orcutt Winslow of Phoenix, Ariz., the center will stand at Vint Hill Road and Vint Hill Parkway, just north of the Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control center.

Virginia has the country’s fastest growing veteran population, according to the state.

Approximately 800,000 veterans comprise 10 percent of Virginia’s population.

Vint Hill served as an Army Signal Corps base for eavesdropping on enemy communications in World War II. Until the Army closed Vint Hill in 1997, it served as a center for development of electronic warfare technology.
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