The following commentary, which does not necessarily reflect the views of The Spokesman-Review’s editorial board, appeared Friday in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.
The Bush administration made the right call in pulling the plug on plans to gut Walla Walla’s Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
And it did so for the right reason — the people of the Walla Walla Valley demonstrated that keeping the VA Medical Center open as a full-service hospital was essential for the veterans of the region.
“It was a community that came together,” said U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. “I have been so impressed with the people of Walla Walla. … . It was the veterans, the support groups, the doctors, the hospitals, the local leaders who made this happen. There wasn’t a person who wasn’t involved.” Astonishingly, Murray’s words aren’t political hyperbole.
Various segments of this community united behind saving the Medical Center, and they did so because it was the right thing to do. Veterans would have been left without adequate medical care. The VA had no plan to fill the gap in service if the hospital had been turned into an outpatient clinic.
VA officials, for example, had no plans — nor had they requested funding — to provide veterans with long-term care. Mental-health care for veterans in the Valley would have also vanished and, again, no plans had been made to meet that important need.
Murray and Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash., took on VA officials and aggressively made the case for keeping the hospital open on behalf of veterans. Local elected and government officials from the county, cities and the Port of Walla Walla also took a no-holds barred approach to this issue.
Veterans were even more vocal. They offered reasoned, heartfelt testimony. So, too, did many others in the community who are touched in some way by the hospital.
Saving the VA was a communitywide effort.
The heavy lifting isn’t done. Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi has ordered a comprehensive study of the Walla Walla facility to develop a master plan for the Medical Center and the campus.
Changes are coming. The shape of those changes will be, in a large part, determined by this community.
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