The sacrifice made by veterans in service to their country and the importance of honoring them was a recurring theme during Friday morning’s groundbreaking ceremony for the new VA Health Care Center in Kernersville.
Officials from throughout the state and local community paid homage to the nation’s veterans as they talked about their excitement that the 280,000 sq. ft. facility will one day provide state-of-the-art care and easy access to an estimated 34,000 veterans in the Piedmont Triad area.
“This is a great day for Kernersville and great thing for the VA,” said Kernersville Mayor Pro Tem Joe Pinnix as he arrived at the groundbreaking ceremony shortly before 11 a.m.
Bruce Sprecher, communications director for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Mid-Atlantic Health Care Network, served as emcee of the program and welcomed the hundreds of guests to Friday’s event, including dozens of veterans as well as Town of Kernersville officials such as Mayor Dawn Morgan, Pinnix, Alderman Tracey Shifflette, Town Manager Curtis Swisher, Town Attorney John G. Wolfe, III, Kernersville Fire Rescue Department Chief Terry Crouse, and Kernersville Police Chief Scott Cunningham.
Also, in attendance were Forsyth County Board of Commissioners Chairman Richard Linville, Vice-Chair Gloria Whisenhunt, Commissioner Mark Baker, County Manager Dudley Watts; Joanne Allen, president of Novant Health Kernersville Medical Center; and a representative from the office of U.S. Senator Kay Hagan.
Featured guests who spoke included Morgan; Forsyth County Commissioner David R. Plyler; U.S. Representatives Virginia Foxx and Howard Coble of the state’s 5th and 6th Congressional Districts, respectively; Mike Fendley, field representative for the office of U.S. Senator Richard Burr; Gary Buechler, president and managing director of development for Lend Lease (US) Healthcare Development, LLC, the company developing the VA Health Care Center; Kaye Green, medical center director of the Salisbury VA Medical Center; Ilairo Pantano, director/assistant secretary of the N.C. Division of Veterans Affairs; and keynote speaker Daniel F. Hoffmann, director of the VA Mid-Atlantic Health Care Network.
Green told those in attendance that N.C.’s is one of the busiest and fastest growing VA systems in the country and that just a short three years ago, she would have never imagined that a health care center such as the one planned in Kernersville would be needed in the area.
“We are thrilled beyond words to see this VA center come to fruition,” said Green.
Fendley offered Senator Richard Burr’s regrets that he was unable to attend Friday’s groundbreaking, but said the senator has long supported veterans.
“Senator Burr has been a champion of those who have served our country,” said Fendley.
He continued, “We applaud the local community leaders who worked so hard to make this a reality.”
Buechler thanked the country’s veterans for their “tremendous service to our nation,” and called the work that has gone into bringing the new VA facility to the Triad a team effort by all those involved.
“We’re all working as one team to bring a facility here that caregivers and veterans can use to their benefit,” said Buechler.
Pantano spoke at the groundbreaking on behalf of Gov. Pat McCrory. As a veteran of the U.S. Marines who re-enlisted because of 9/11, Pantano said that at times veterans feel as if their sacrifices have been in vain, but he was there to tell them they will not be forgotten in N.C.
“We are not going to forget our veterans. Sometimes society forgets. I will not forget,” said Pantano.
Morgan said Kernersville’s wish for a veterans’ facility in the community dates back decades to when a group first rallied around the need in 1939. An article was even published in the Kernersville News about the group, she said.
“This has been something the people in the community have hoped for a long time. It has been a dream here to provide better health care for veterans,” said Morgan.
Morgan also called upon the words of President Abraham Lincoln, who in his second inaugural address called on the nation to begin healing its wounds from the Civil War:
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Plyler, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, said county representatives were delighted to be at the ceremony, which marked the beginning of a “perfect marriage and perfect opportunity for all of us.”
Foxx and Coble both gave their thanks to the veterans attending the ceremony.
“We take our freedom for granted because of the wonderful job our veterans have done supporting us,” said Foxx. “It is important that we acknowledge every day our gratitude to those who have served. It is also fitting that this health care center will be in this district where we do have so many veterans and need to make sure they get proper care.”
Coble said the facility’s impact will be wide reaching across the state, especially where jobs are concerned.
“The direct result of this Health Care Center is creating many, many jobs,” he said.
Hoffmann, in his keynote address, said it is no secret that projects like the new VA Health Care Center in Kernersville don’t happen on their own but in N.C., there is definitely bi-partisan support when it comes to the state’s veterans.
“I have felt it ever since I came to North Carolina,” said Hoffmann.
Hoffmann said plans for the facility are the manifestation of conversations about growth among the veteran population in Winston-Salem and Greensboro.
“There are nearly 800,000 veterans in North Carolina. It is a veteran friendly state. Our mission is to honor veterans by providing exceptional health care,” said Hoffmann, which includes providing the greatest access to highly skilled doctors, nurses and staff in the best facilities with the best equipment possible.
Hoffmann said that in the past, distance was the greatest barrier to that care.
“It was a road too far to travel for most, but we are eliminating a great deal of this barrier,” he said.
Hoffmann said it took years of pouring over mountains of data to determine what was needed, where in terms of service to veterans. Today, the Kernersville site is one of three major Health Care Centers planned for the state, with one in Charlotte and another in Fayetteville.
“Today, we gather to demonstrate the VA’s commitment to veterans living in the Piedmont Triad,” said Hoffmann. “One day, this pile of dirt will be home to a modern facility and modern health care.”