Projects at Columbia VA hospital underway after potential delay

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COLUMBIA - After a potential funding delay, work is scheduled to begin on a new parking garage and patient education center for the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans' Hospital.

Public Affairs Officer Stephen Gaither said because of last year's national budget talks surrounding health care access and appointment wait times, there were plans to potentially delay certain construction projects at VA facilities across the country. Since Congress passed the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014, money for the two projects is now available.

Gaither said one of the biggest issues patients and visitors have with the hospital is the lack of parking spaces.

"We're taking care of more than 38,000 veterans now, and one of the dissatisfiers is parking," Gaither said. "This parking garage is going to help address that shortcoming."

Hospital patient Gene Kilburn said the parking garage is much-needed.

"I drive two and a half hours to come down here to see the doctor," Kilburn said. "I leave an hour ahead just so I can try and find a parking space when I get here, and sometimes it takes an hour."

Gaither said the patient education center will serve as an entrance between the parking garage and the main facility.

Hospital employee Randy Westveer said the two projects will be very beneficial to patients.

"The parking garage is going to be a godsend because a lot of our veterans are older and not getting any younger obviously," Westveer said. "In inclement weather, parking your car in the parking lot and having to walk in is a burden for a lot of them. The education center will help them maintain their health care, and the more they can understand and realize about their health care, the better they are."

Gaither said the engineer behind the projects told him the estimated cost of the projects is $12 million. Contractors are scheduled to start blocking off the visitor's parking lot for the parking garage Aug. 25, and construction on the education center is scheduled to begin around Oct. 19.