New Butler VA facility to reflect changing needs

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Advocates for veterans agree that building a 56-unit apartment complex for troubled veterans will be ground-breaking for VA Butler Healthcare in more than just the literal sense.

The complex will be handicapped-accessible, include units for women and allow far greater opportunity for independence, according to Veterans Affairs Butler director Patricia Nealon and Butler County veterans services director John Cyprian.

"This has been a long time coming, and we're happy to see it getting off the ground," Mr. Cyprian said of the $8.5 million project that is to begin within the next month. The complex will be built behind the main building on the VA campus on New Castle Road in Butler Township.

Ms. Nealon said she, too, is eager to see the existing 56-bed domiciliary decommissioned and replaced by the new complex of four apartment buildings and a treatment center. There are no plans for the old domiciliary yet.

"The fact is that the domiciliary is outdated," she said. It is not handicapped-accessible, nor does it have an area designated for female veterans. "We have to refer them to Pittsburgh or another place within the community for services,'' she said.

In addition, the existing facility is similar to a dormitory, she said, with no opportunity for independent living -- a critical consideration since the facility is meant to be a transition into independent living for homeless veterans or those struggling with mental health or addiction issues.

"We'll be able to provide veterans a chance to see what a return to the community is like. They'll have their own area to keep clean. They'll be cooking for themselves. [It] will set them up well to move from here to independent living," Ms. Nealon said.

Mr. Cyprian said he views the apartment-living opportunity as a chance to build self-confidence. "Right now, there's an institutional feel. With the apartments, there will be a sense of responsibility and independence," he said.

Ms. Nealon credited the efforts of U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless, and U.S. Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper, D-Erie, for their work in securing funding for the project.

"Most VAs were built in the 1940s and '50s, so we're all in the same boat, competing for construction dollars to do the renovations we need," she said.

The project will be done in two phases on the former ball field of the 88-acre campus. The first phase includes two apartment buildings with a total of 24 private bedrooms, up to 12 of which will be designated for women. Completion is expected in the fall of 2011.

The second phase is expected to be designed and awarded in 2011 and will include two more buildings with 16 apartments each built amid therapeutic gardens.

Another construction project for veterans, this one for $12 million, is under way. The first 30-bedroom section of the community living center will open in January, then work will begin on the second 30-bedroom section. The single-story center will provide long-term nursing care to veterans.

Karen Kane: or 724-772-9180.


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