Remarks by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki
New Orleans Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) Groundbreaking
New Orleans, LA
June 25, 2010
Governor Jindal; Members of Congress; Mayor Landrieu and members of the city council; Secretary Carson and community leaders—thank you all for your leadership in making today’s groundbreaking ceremony possible. We are here because of your support for the Veterans of Southeast Louisiana—especially you, Mr. Mayor. In a few short weeks, you have demonstrated your commitment to Veterans and this project. Your support has made all the difference.
Welcome, also, to John Lombardi, President of Louisiana State University, Dr. Lee Hamm of Tulane University, and to the representatives of our Veterans service organizations; your support and leadership were equally crucial in making this day a reality.
Fellow Veterans, VA colleagues, other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
i am honored to join you today to keep faith with the men and women who have worn the uniforms of our Nation and who kept faith with us when our country needed them most.
New Orleans is one of the great cities of America and, indeed, the world. Rich in culture, steeped in history, New Orleans boasts a tradition of toughness and of citizens caring for one another. We, at VA, are proud to be a part of this city, this culture, and this heritage.
When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans five years ago, VA medical folks went into action. Every single patient in the New Orleans Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) was evacuated—without a single loss. And, wherever they were delivered, their VA electronic health record tracked them, ensuring total continuity of care for each patient.
We didn’t abandon our Veterans then, we haven’t forgotten them since, and we are going to provide them the best possible health care in the future. In the past five years, we have spent over 30 million dollars on 20 significant recovery projects, including five new Community-Based Outpatient Clinics, two dental clinics, and a mental health center in Southeast Louisiana. Today, 90% of the area’s Veterans live within 30 minutes of VA primary care and mental health care services.
We are now keeping our promise to replace the New Orleans VAMC. It has taken time and patience to get the project this far, and it will take more to bring it to completion. But the wait will be worth it. We are not just replacing a hospital; we are creating a new, state-of-the-art facility which will serve as a national model for patient-centered care for decades to come.
We are also rebuilding our partnership with two great academic institutions—LSU and Tulane. Through the years, this partnership has helped train thousands of medical professionals, so re-establishing the pre-Katrina residency training program is a precious priority.
We have come this far thanks to a partnership of federal, state, and local governments, which have all committed to caring for Veterans and rebuilding New Orleans. My thanks, once again, to the Members of Congress, especially Senator Mary Landrieu, and to the state of Louisiana and city of New Orleans for their vision and leadership.
President Obama is personally committed to extending access to Veterans’ benefits and services. This new medical center will help us do just that. It is good for New Orleans and good for Louisiana. The construction phase will bring 2,000 jobs to the region, and when the project is completed, the city and the state will reap the benefits of 2,200 permanent jobs, with salaries averaging $95,000 a year.
And, most importantly, this new medical center is the right thing to do for the Veterans of Southeast Louisiana, who also deserve special thanks for their service to the Nation and their unwavering support and patience. We have Veterans in the audience from every conflict from World War II to Iraq and Afghanistan. I’d like to ask everyone else to join me in thanking them and showing our appreciation.
Thank you. Now, let’s go break some ground!