Back in 2011, I was serving on City Council and was invited to attend a Veterans Round Table at the American Legion hosted by (then) Coconino County Supervisor Mandy Metzger (District 4). It was there that a local man told a story about his brother, a United States Veteran who had passed away recently. He had been ill for a while and was receiving care through the VA. He was being taken care of in a veteran’s home, but that home was in Phoenix. It was the closest available bed. This man, a veteran himself, whose brother served his country and was nearing the end of his life, didn’t have the resources to get to Phoenix and stay for an extended, undetermined length of time. And so, his brother left this world without family nearby.
I got up, walked across the street to City Hall and asked my assistant to get me a meeting with the director of the Arizona Department of Veteran Services (AZVS). The following week, when I arrived at the AZVS, Col. Strickland (who was the director of the AZVS at the time) brought his entire staff out to meet me. He remarked that in the many years that he had been the director of the AZVS, I was the first municipal-level elected official who had ever requested a meeting with him. I told him that I wanted a Veterans Home for my community and I figured that I would make the request in person.
It took eight years and the hard work of council members, members of Congress, senators from both sides of the aisle, advocates from veterans’ organizations and passion community members, but I am happy to announce that June 1, we will break ground on Northern Arizona’s first veterans’ home.
The home will be located on McMillan Mesa and have 80 beds available to veterans and their spouses. This will allow families not only from Flagstaff, but from the entire region, to be with their loved ones without the added burden of traveling to Phoenix. And in my humble opinion, McMillan Mesa, with its wide open space and peak views, beats Phoenix any day.
Rural areas, remote areas, don’t always get the federal investment that urban, more populous areas receive. Which makes sense; there are fewer people and there’s a logic to allocating resources in places where they will benefit the most people. That’s a practical argument, but it doesn’t answer the ethical dilemma of why we as a society let veterans die without their family by their side. It was wrong then and it’s wrong now.
I would like to thank the many people who worked to bring this project to fruition. A special thank you to former Mayor Nabours and former Councilmember Oravits for the work that they did in helping to secure the necessary matching funding from the state. Special thanks as well to Congressman O’Halleran, Congresswoman Kirkpatrick and Senators Sinema and McSally.
Finally, I invite you all to join me for the groundbreaking June 1 at 11 a.m. Please stay tuned and visit the City of Flagstaff’s website (flagstaff.az.gov/) and/or Facebook page (@CityOfFlagstaff) or my Mayor Facebook page (@MayorCoralEvans) for more details (which will be posted closer to the event.
Thank you! FBN
By Coral Evans
Coral Evans is the mayor of Flagstaff.