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MSVA Executive Director says the new facility should be welcoming veterans by 2023.

Mississippi Veterans Affairs Executive Director Stacey Pickering joined Y’all Politics to talk about the progress being made on the new VA Home on the Gulf Coast at Tradition. He also provided an update on how the state’s veterans are doing as COVID-19 protocols have been relaxed, allowing families to reunite and visit.

Pickering said 30% of Mississippi’s veterans live in the state’s lower three counties of Hancock, Harrison and Jackson. The closest VA nursing facility is nearly two hours north in Collins, making it difficult on families to access the care and services those veterans deserve.

State leaders recognized that fact and began planning the project nearly two years ago, and now it is coming to fruition.

“We have our state match, our federal match, the land’s in place. We went out for bid yesterday, on April 27th,” Pickering said. “So by August, September we expect to be totally under construction. Eighteen months later we will have Operation Homecoming where we start welcoming our first residents on the Gulf Coast to that facility.”

It will be a state-of-art nursing facility with 100 beds and private rooms.

Under former Governor Phil Bryant’s leadership and working with coast developer Joe Canizaro, the idea of a Medical City was borne.  The new Medical City not only includes the new Veterans Home, but also houses campuses of William Carey University and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.  Both institutions located medical schools at the Tradition development on Highway 67 in Harrison County, a key component to the Medical City idea and to the effort to locate the new VA Home.

<<READ MORE: Bryant, Canizaro making Mississippi Medical City a reality.>>

In addition, the National Diabetes and Obesity Research Institute (NDORI) in affiliation with the Cleveland Clinic and Memorial Health Systems is onsite and planning to expand their reach in the years ahead.  This research facility is addressing the causes and costly effects of obesity and diabetes in Mississippi and across the nation.

<<READ MORE: Mississippi institute leans in to find cure for obesity, diabetes using novel research.>>

The location at Tradition allows the new VA Home to be far enough inland to shield its residents from the impacts of flooding and potential severe storms, such as hurricanes. Pickering says this is a major plus for residents and their operations.

“We can shelter-in-place. All four of our homes have generators that when we lose power like we did during the ice storm in Oxford, Kosciusko and Jackson a generator kicks on immediately. We can pull the whole facilities. Our residents are totally cared for,” Pickering said, adding that the location allows for the facility not to have to worry about evacuations or relocations in such natural disasters.

Other economic development projects are planned for the area in the near term. Pickering said the VA is looking to partner with those developers as they continue to provide high quality care for the state’s veterans.

The Mississippi VA recently welcomed back families to visit their loved ones at the Veterans Homes after almost a year of COVID-19 precautions that were put in place to slow the spread and avoid outbreaks.  Pickering said 95% of the VA staff and residents have been vaccinated now, and all facilities are allowing veterans’ families to visit once again.

Watch the full interview with MSVA Executive Director Stacey Pickering below.