WASHINGTON — He helped build it with budget earmarks. Now the Bay Pines VA Medical Center will be renamed for the late U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young.
The U.S. House is expected to vote today to rename the facility the "C.W. Bill Young Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center," a tribute coming a day before the long-serving Republican is eulogized at a funeral in Largo that will draw thousands of people.
"America's veterans knew no greater advocate than Rep. Bill Young. An Army National Guardsman and Reservist for over a decade and an elected official for more than 50 years, Bill dedicated his life to serving his fellow Americans," Rep. Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican who chairs the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs and who sponsored the bill, said Tuesday. More than 350 co-sponsors have signed on. A companion bill in the Senate likely will get approval next week.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, also introduced a resolution honoring Young, 82, for his public service.
After Miller introduced the bill Tuesday night, a string of lawmakers took the microphone to praise Young, who began serving in the House in 1971 and died Oct. 18 as the longest-serving Republican in either chamber. He rose to prominence as head of the House Appropriations Committee and later the defense appropriations subcommittee.
The VA facility at Bay Pines, an area between St. Petersburg and Seminole, was built during the Great Depression and was a boon to a depressed economy. Some buildings on the site opened in 1933; the hospital opened in 1934.
Young played an instrumental role in growing the facility through budget earmarks, which had becoming increasingly controversial in recent years before being banned. Young, who showered the Tampa Bay area with hundreds of millions in federal dollars, never apologized for his success and it was a centerpiece of his re-election campaigns.
"Florida has done very well because of the Congress recognizing needs," he said in a 2010 interview. "You want to talk about earmarks? The first big appropriation that I did years ago was to build a hospital for veterans at Bay Pines."
Young visited the hospital with President Gerald Ford in 1976, gaining a key ally for a major expansion. At a 1978 construction ceremony, Young relished his role.
"I followed it," he was quoted as saying in the St. Petersburg Times, now the Tampa Bay Times. "I almost carried it by hand."
Young continued to play a leading role in developing the facility.
There have been past suggestions that the hospital be named after Young, but rules require a member of Congress to be deceased.
Young has other public facilities in his name: the marine science complex at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and the currently closed Tampa Bay Water Reservoir. His public visitation service Wednesday evening will be held at the Bill Young Armed Forces Reserve Center in Pinellas Park.
Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report.