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$75M approved for vets' health

Lawmakers have approved nearly $75-million for construction at Tampa Bay area veterans hospitals and at MacDill Air Force Base, part of a $72-billion package being debated in Washington.

Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, on Wednesday announced the local spending approved by the House Appropriations Committee, a package that faces no congressional opposition.

A final spending plan is expected to be approved by Oct. 1.

Bay Pines VA Medical Center in St. Petersburg would get $17.4-million to expand and enhance mental health treatment, including treatment for post traumatic stress disorder.

That includes a 156,000-square-foot addition to the hospital. The work also allows for the eventual renovation of 189,000 square feet of existing space.

Michael Sunich, a Tampa psychologist who has treated veterans outside the VA, said the entire mental health community is trying to come to grips with veterans who return from war emotionally traumatized. They constitute up to 30 percent of returning veterans.

Treatment can take many years as veterans cope with mental health issues that are difficult to treat and diagnose.

"That's a drop in the bucket, but it's a start," Sunich said of expanded local treatment. "So many troops are coming back in far better shape physically than emotionally — by far."

The VA, which requested the funding, didn't have an estimate on how many more patients will be treated with the new money.

"We owe our past, our present and our future veterans the finest care possible," Young said in a statement, "and this new facility responds to an urgent need for additional space and resources to provide mental health" and PTSD services.

Young also announced $21-million to expand care at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center's polytrauma center in Tampa, one of four centers within the Department of Veterans Affairs system nationally.

Tampa's polytrauma center has treated more than 322 of the most severely injured veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.

In other spending announced by Young and approved by Appropriations:

• $4.5-million to the Inspector General's Office within the VA to hire 20 more inspectors, half of whom will work out of Bay Pines.

• $21-million for a new, 66,000-square-foot headquarters for the special operations element of U.S. Central Command at MacDill. CentCom oversees operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Construction begins in March.

• $10.5-million toward construction of a headquarters for the U.S. Special Operations Command, also at MacDill. Construction begins in February.

"It is time that we move these special operations units out of trailers and 50-year-old makeshift facilities," Young said.

$75M approved for vets' health 06/25/08 [Last modified: Saturday, June 28, 2008 6:34pm]
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