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Old Posted Jan 29, 2007, 5:57 AM
tmathis tmathis is offline
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Celebrities, politicians to attend rehab center dedication in SA tomorrow - Express

http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/met....2c252224.html

Web Posted: 01/28/2007 08:47 PM CST

Scott Huddleston
Express-News

Monday’s dedication of a new, $50 million rehabilitation center at Brooke Army Medical Center will be as glitzy as one gets on an Army post, with celebrities and politicians shaking the hands of soldiers with severe burns and amputated limbs.

Expected guests at the gala dedication of the Center for the Intrepid and two new Fisher Houses include two presidential hopefuls, Sen’s. Hillary Clinton and John McCain, as well as actor Denzel Washington, comedian Rosie O’Donnell and singer John Mellencamp. There’s been talk that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and actress Michelle Pfeiffer may be there.

But make no mistake. The stars at the event, even as leaders are at odds over a plan for Iraq, are the troops who’ve served and sacrificed.

As construction workers toiled at a breakneck pace for some 14 months to finish the cutting-edge facility on time, they kept thinking about the wounded.

‘‘That was a big emotional mover for the job,’‘ said Dean Poillucci, vice president of Skanska USA Building, construction manager on the project.

About 1,000 tradesmen helped with the center, which took 325,000 man-hours to build. ‘‘This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a facility for the people in our armed services,’‘ he said. ‘‘The challenges were many, and it took a lot of long days and long hours, but we knew what it was for.’‘

The dedication also underscores a nation’s gratitude. The center is the largest, costliest facility ever built for war veterans with private funds – more than 600,000 individual and corporate donations, from $1 to $1 million.

The country has come a long way since the Vietnam era, when veterans were cursed at and spat upon. Now, after 9-11, supporting veterans is as American as baseball and apple pie.

Yet, some critics have said the Intrepid Center reveals a shortcoming in government’s responsibility to care for veterans. Paul Begala, Democratic Party guru and former adviser to President Bill Clinton, said the center, which will be staffed by Veterans Affairs and Defense Department medical workers and therapists, should’ve been funded with public dollars.

‘‘It is an obscenity that a government that can find billions in no-bid contracts for Halliburton and trillions in tax cuts for the wealthy cannot find a few million dollars to bind up the wounds of its heroes,’‘ he said.

American Legion National Commander Paul Morin said the federal government has long failed its veterans, passing that responsibility to states or the private sector.

‘‘I use the phrase often that a nation that forgets its veterans is a lost nation. We’re getting to that point when you see private individuals come to the plate to build a home for veterans who have lost limbs and other major injuries as a result of war,’‘ said Morin, 54, of Chicopee, Mass.

VA Secretary Jim Nicholson, who’s in town for the dedication, doesn’t see it that way. The idea for the center began two years ago when New York philanthropist Arnold Fisher, chairman of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, asked military leaders what his group could do to help veterans. Congress had just approved a ‘‘death gratuity’‘ for fallen U.S. troops, addressing a need Fisher’s group had tried to meet by giving financial support to families of the fallen.

‘‘He wanted to have something really special here, a showplace for how we care for our injured, for all the world to see,’‘ Nicholson said. ‘‘This is just another notch up. I think it speaks volumes about the care and concern people in America have for young men and women who raise their hands, take an oath and go off to war.’‘

Media tours of the center began Sunday when Master Sgt. Daniel Robles, who had both legs amputated below the knee after being wounded in Iraq, became the first person to receive a medal in the new building — a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

With his wife Ernestine and daughter, Mary, 5, at his side, Robles said he’s used his family’s support to get through since he was hurt nine months ago, and looks forward to what he’ll accomplish at the center.

Arnold Fisher called the wounded veterans ‘‘our national treasure,’‘ but said he hoped they someday wouldn’t need facilities like the Intrepid Center.

‘‘Our only wish is that a place like this someday will become a garage,’‘ he said.

Features in the four-story center include an indoor gym with a running track and 21-foot rock climbing simulator; a gait lab that makes three-dimensional animated images to help guide and improve movement; a virtual reality dome, where veterans can improve their balance; shooting and driving simulators; and a water aquatics area, with a ‘‘flow rider’‘ that resembles a ride at Schlitterbahn.

The ornate, oval-shaped center is more than twice the size of BAMC’s 29,000-square-foot amputee care center, which opened two years ago.

Next to it are two new 21-room Fisher Houses. The Fisher House Foundation raised about $6 million to give relatives of the wounded a place to stay, with freshly planted palm trees, a rambling courtyard and a children’s playground.

The foundation partnered with the Intrepid Fund and built two new houses side-by-side for the first time, in conjunction with the opening of the Intrepid Center.

Ken Fisher, Arnold Fisher’s son and chairman and CEO of the Fisher House Foundation, said the new houses have wide hallways, rooms that are spacious and wheelchair-friendly and large common areas — kitchens and dining and living rooms, so families with similar difficulties can share, and bond.

‘‘They will have a feeling of warmth,’‘ he said. ‘‘We want these houses to be homes.’‘ One wounded Marine at BAMC, Cpl. Aaron P. Mankin, 25, said he’s had more than 20 surgeries since he was badly burned over 25 percent of his body, including his face, hands and arms, the result of an explosion in Iraq two years ago.

But with his wife and infant daughter nearby, he’s adjusting to his disability and disfigurement, while learning to be a father. Since he was wearing goggles when injured, he still has eyes to see his baby, Madeline.

‘‘There’s a lot of questioning and self-doubt any dad has. Those are compounded,’‘ he said in a raspy voice, from inhalation burns.

‘‘The exciting part is there’s no other place you can go to get this type of quality care,’‘ said Mankin, of Rogers, Ark.

It remains to be seen whether the center will be the last privately funded facility that’s needed for veterans.

‘‘I certainly hope so,’‘ said Bill White, president of the Intrepid Fund. ‘‘But I could tell you one thing. I was at the hospital the other day and they were talking about getting geared up for potentially more wounded service members coming from Iraq and Afghanistan. The need is great.’‘

Aside from $250,000 donated by USAA and $100,000 from Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union, San Antonians gave little for the center, White said.

Advances in battlefield survival, from 73 percent during Vietnam to 93 percent today, have prompted the nonprofit world to do more to care for the wounded, Ken Fisher said. His foundation plans to build 21 new Fisher Houses over four years, and has given more than 7,500 airline tickets to veterans’ relatives to help them be near loved ones since 9-11. ‘‘We’re trying to grow the foundation to help with the families’ other needs,’‘ he said.

The higher survival rates also have challenged the VA to give veterans a quality of life, said Nicholson, a Bush appointee who became secretary in 2005.

‘‘There are now people returning who would not be coming back alive in previous wars,’‘ he said. ‘‘That’s both a challenge and an opportunity for us, to serve those who’ve made great sacrifices.’‘

Traumatic brain injury, or, TBI, is the new menace for war veterans for military doctors to try to diagnose and the VA to try to treat. A direct blow or dramatic jolt to the head from bomb blasts causes the disorder, which can trigger memory loss, behavioral problems, and in severe cases, extreme loss of cognitive and physical functions.

Funding for veterans’ health care has risen 70 percent since 2000, Nicholson said. The $80 billion VA budget for 2007, up from $48 billion in fiscal 2001, includes an unprecedented $25 billion for VA medical care.

And despite heated debate over President Bush’s planned troop surge in Iraq, Nicholson said he believes support for veteran health care spending will keep rising.

‘‘I expect that there will continue to be strong support of veterans,’‘ he said. ‘‘It’s not about partisan politics, it’s about patriotism.’‘

Last edited by tmathis; Jan 29, 2007 at 3:47 PM.
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Old Posted Jan 30, 2007, 12:48 AM
Corinth940 Corinth940 is offline
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I saw on CNN today that this new center will be featured tonight at 9 CST on Anderson Cooper 360. From what I saw, it's a very impressive rehab center and will be featured prominently in its ability to bring a sense of normalcy back to those soldiers and veterans who have lost limbs.
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