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The Journal Gazette

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Friday, April 05, 2019 1:00 am

Budget to help local VA system

$12 million in projects part of 2020 proposal

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

The fiscal 2020 budget proposed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs includes more than $12 million in possible construction projects for the VA Northern Indiana Health Care System.

One of those projects – $3.5 million for the continued expansion of the VA cemetery in Marion – sits fairly high on the agency's construction priority list. Enlarging the Marion National Ceremony ranks 24th in importance among nearly 600 construction and maintenance projects totaling $2.8 billion.

Construction of an oncology clinic in Fort Wayne ranks 81st on the list. The clinic would cost nearly $8.3 million, with $826,000 projected to be spent in fiscal 2020, which begins Oct. 1 of this year.

Remodeling the second floor at the VA Medical Center in Fort Wayne, at a cost of $5.3 million, ranks 221st on the priority list. Replacing the center's fire alarm system, at a cost of $2.5 million, ranks 249th.

Thomas Blackburn, public affairs officer for VA Northern Indiana, said the Marion cemetery and Fort Wayne oncology clinic are the most likely projects to receive funding in 2020 based on VA's national rankings.

Blackburn said in an email that the oncology clinic would be an 8,500-square-foot addition to the north side of VA's Lake Avenue medical center, with construction starting in fiscal 2022 or 2023. It would replace an existing oncology clinic at the local campus.

As part of that proposed project and the planned construction of an addition called the West Tower, the emergency department will move to the tower and be replaced by a gift shop and cafe now on the second floor of the medical center. Also, a veterans welcome center will be built to consolidate administrative functions now spread over three floors, and a new main entrance will be installed nearer the parking lot, Blackburn said.

“These relocations are meant to help our Veterans navigate the facility easier as well as have an improved traffic flow by putting frequented services on the first floor,” Blackburn said.

He said the planned remodeling of the second floor of the medical center would update space for specialty care services including the pain clinic, physical medicine and rehabilitation. Remodeling is expected in fiscal 2022.

Replacement of the fire alarm system is expected to take place in fiscal 2021, Blackburn said.

Several renovations have been made at the 69-year-old medical center in recent years. The fourth-floor hospital is being turned into 26 single inpatient rooms, third-floor specialty clinics were upgraded, the basement was expanded for a surgical instruments sterilization service, the lobby was remodeled and boilers and underground utilities were replaced. 

The Marion National Cemetery already has won authorization to add 2,500 gravesites to its nearly 13,500 existing and occupied gravesites, Thomas Kulich, assistant director of the cemetery, said in an email. He said the cemetery has 10 years' worth of available space.