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March 12, 2019

Veterans’ care center delay means a “better building”

When the VA said you can have a little flexibility in your design and still qualify for VA reimbursement, we jumped on the chance to look at a different configuration.
— Steven J. Combs, Virginia Department of Veterans Services
Puller Veteran Care Center
• Where: 30 acres at Vint Hill Road and MacIntosh Drive in eastern Fauquier.

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

• Operator: Virginia Department of Veterans Services.

• Beds: 128.

• Cost: Potentially $60 million, excluding donated land.

• Staff: 185 to 205.

• General contractor: Whiting-Turner, Baltimore.

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

• Opening: Summer 2021, two years after construction starts.

• Background: The state operates similar 400-bed and 240-bed centers in Richmond and Roanoke, respectively. It plans to open a 128-bed center in Virginia Beach the summer of 2021.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
Virginia had hoped to open a veterans’ care center near New Baltimore by year’s end.

Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and other government officials conducted a ceremonial groundbreaking on the donated site in October 2017.

But, the Puller Veteran Care Center at Vint Hill opening then got pushed to the summer of 2021, largely for design changes to improve and expand the delivery of medical services and activities for patients, said Steven J. Combs, deputy commissioner of the Virginia Department of Veteran Services.

Construction, which will take two years, should begin in July or August, Mr. Combs said.

But the roughly 18-month delay will be worth the wait, he said.

The “state-of-the-art” center will provide skilled nursing, Alzheimer’s/dementia and short-term rehabilitative care.

Among other things, the changes will reduce the number of residential structures from 12 to eight and allow a 1-to-8, staff-to-patient care ratio, Mr. Combs explained.

The original design provided a staff-to-patient ratio of 1-to-10.

Revisions also include enclosed hallways to connect the structures, allowing patients to walk safely among interior landscaped courtyards and from one building to another.

“A veteran with a memory-care issue can move very freely, in and out of the buildings and can enjoy the outside, while still being safe from wandering,” Mr. Combs said. “At the end of the day, we’ll get a better building.”

The deputy commissioner estimated the center’s annual operating cost at $20 million. Veterans’ Medicare and/or Medicaid benefits, government per diem payments and private insurance will fund the facility, he said.

Virginia had agreed to fully fund the Puller Veteran Care Center, with the expectation that the federal government eventually would reimburse it for up to 65 percent of the project’s construction cost.

The state in October learned that U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs had approved a $34 million grant for the center — much sooner than expected.

“When the VA said you can have a little flexibility in your design and still qualify for VA reimbursement, we jumped on the chance to look at a different configuration,” Mr. Combs explained.

The state will fund the difference between the federal grant and the total cost.

Five years ago, the project’s original budget estimate totaled $48 million. Meanwhile, because of rising construction costs over the years and the project’s redesign, the budget has climbed to about $60 million, Mr. Combs said.

But it would difficult be to estimate the center’s cost, because the state won’t receive construction bids until the end of March, he said.

Ultimately, “it’s a win-win — except having to manage the excitement in the community against the delay in the project,” Mr. Combs said.

Veterans and the community “will be blown away” by the center, he added.

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

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.”

The center’s “soft” opening will take place in the summer of 2021. His agency hopes to dedicate the center that Nov. 10 — the Marine Corps’ birthday — Mr. Combs said.

“We could think of no better way to honor the namesakes of this center.”

Contact Don Del Rosso at Don@FauquierNow.com or 540-270-0300.
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Cammie Rodgers · March 13, 2019 at 9:15 am
This is great news! My husband and I are both veterans, and this will be close by just in case we need help in the future.
steelrain6 · March 13, 2019 at 6:07 am
Great news on the vet center. Let's not forget that "Chesty" Puller also attended VMI before joining to the USMC. Rah Virginia Mil!
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