Orlando VA Medical Center officially opens its doors

The brand-new Orlando VA Medical Center officially opened its doors at a May 26 dedication ceremony that drew more than 400 people. The facility experienced many problems during its seven-year construction at a cost of about $620 million.

Michael D. Helm, national commander of The American Legion, said, “I’m glad to see the progress made in Orlando, but about 100,000 veterans in Central Florida must be overjoyed. They are the ones who have been waiting seven long years to get the high-quality health care this facility will deliver.”

The American Legion has been pressing VA to complete the Orlando project, which fell behind schedule after ground was broken in 2008. The Legion conducted a site visit to Orlando in 2013 and found that construction of the new facility was hampered by VA’s system of centralized contracting.

For example, VA leadership in Orlando originally ordered soundproof windows for the center, since it lies below a major flight path for the city’s international airport. Unaware of this local condition, VA’s Central Office tried to substitute those windows for lower cost items.

The American Legion addressed such contracting problems in a resolution passed at its 2013 national convention, calling on VA to restore contracting authority to its medical centers.

“We know the Orlando center was supposed to be completed in 2012,” Helm said. “The delays in construction have been inexcusable – ask any local veteran who’s been forced to wait an additional three years. VA needs to find a long-term solution for these types of chronic construction delays.”

An April 2013 report by the Government Accountability Office found that construction fell behind, in part, because VA had to change the site location three times and specifications for medical equipment also changed several times.

Despite the delays, Helm said, veterans will benefit from the facility’s top-quality medical services for decades to come. “The American Legion may be dissatisfied with the way VA builds its hospitals, but it always welcomes additional health care for America’s veterans," he said.

Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., attended the dedication ceremony and said, “After over two decades of working strenuously on this project, today is a day to celebrate for our area veterans.” She said that veterans and their family members would no longer have to travel as far as Jacksonville or Gainesville to receive medical care.

While the hospital’s primary care clinic has been open since February, most inpatient services won’t start until the fall. The medical center’s departments will open in phases, according to VA, until the facility is serving an estimated 115,000 veterans per year.

The Orlando medical center, which covers about 1.2 million square feet, will have about 3,000 employees, 134 inpatient beds, 120 nursing-home beds and 60 more for rehabilitation and recovery.