For 241 years patriots have stood watch over our liberty. From Bunker Hill to Baghdad, we are the beneficiaries of their vigilance and determination to uphold the democratic beliefs which are the foundation of our nation. The brave men and women who have chosen to serve in the military deserve our praise and respect, not just on Veterans Day, but every day. Without their selfless choice to serve we would not have the quality of life we have today.
Whereas the nation has this one day specifically set aside to honor our nation’s heroes, my colleagues and I have the privilege to serve those that have defended our nation, each and every day. Currently there are over 83,000 veterans served within the Columbia VA Health Care System, at the Columbia campus as well as in clinics in Greenville, Spartanburg, Anderson, Rock Hill, Florence, Sumter and Orangeburg.
I am also proud that more than 40 percent of our 2,700 staff are veterans themselves, and are committed to now serve as members of our team. One such veteran staff member, Tom Alligood, retired from the U.S. Army in 1999. After a series of unfortunate events in the six years following his retirement, Tom had hit rock bottom. After becoming homeless, Tom turned to the VA for help and was introduced to the Compensated Work Therapy program, which allowed him to receive the treatment he needed while working a job at the VA that had true meaning for him. In 2006 Tom became a certified nursing assistant and was hired full time at the WJB Dorn VA Medical Center where he continues to serve his fellow veterans to this day.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has a substantial economic impact across South Carolina. In 2017 there were over $3.8 billion in VA expenditures:
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▪ VA medical care: $1.3 billion
▪ VA compensation and pension: $2.2 billion
▪ VA all other $374 million
The economic impact of the VA also positively impacts the Midlands. The Columbia VA Medical Center campus has been approved for over $124 million in new construction projects. Construction has already begun for a parking garage and police station, with more to begin soon. In only a few years the Columbia VA campus will have considerably more parking, clinical, and other space, all in support of improving care for our veterans, resulting in a campus that is barely recognizable to what you see today.
The Columbia VA Health Care System is continuously striving to improve and remains committed to transparency. Primary care appointments for new patients currently average 16.5 days, and 2.4 days for established patients. This, and other information, is publicly available at www.accesstocare.va.gov.
Veterans deserve our respect for the honor, courage, and commitment they showed for our country and its people. For us, every day, not just Nov. 11, is dedicated to serving the needs of these dedicated men and women living today who have served in this nation’s armed forces. We also appreciate the countless contributions of leaders and supporters across the state, including the Midlands Veteran Engagement Council, Lowcountry Veterans Engagement Team, Upstate Veterans Alliance Network, and the Pee Dee Community Engagement Council.
On this Veterans Day, and throughout the year, my staff and I want to express our respect and commitment to veterans from all eras. We thank each and every one of them, along with their families, for their service to our country. VA cares – Columbia VA cares – I care.