VA "Center of Excellence" opens on Wednesday

SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - Care at the nation's veterans hospitals has been under increasing scrutiny following disturbing reports of delayed care at a veterans hospital in Arizona, but today that talk was about a new facility to serve local veterans that will be offering pioneering care for veterans suffering from mental health issues.

The VA in Salisbury serves veterans across the piedmont.  It's been in Salisbury for 60 years, but many say that what was introduced today may be the biggest development to help veterans since the hospital was built.

Vietnam combat veteran Ralph D'Ausilio know why today's announcement is so important for veterans.

"They have those invisible wounds that they aren't prepared to deal with," D'Ausilio told WBTV.

And that's what this new building at the VA is all about.

"I am thrilled that we are cutting the ribbon today, this almost 80,000 square foot building…because it provides an optimal healing environment," Salisbury VA Director Kaye Green told WBTV.  "We have to provide the best care possible."

The new Center of Excellence at the VA Medical Center in Salisbury is a big step in treating mental health issues faced by veterans.

The $16 million facility may be one of the finest in the country, according to leaders here, but it's much more than brick and mortar.  There are bright walls, a jukebox, screened in porch, and other at home touches, but there's something else that's new…the way mental health is treated.

"It used to be that if someone had a mental illness diagnosis, they carried that diagnosis with them forever, and that has changed.  We have adopted a recovery model where we believe it is possible that veterans can recover from mental illness," Green added.

Peer support is a big part of that, and that's where veterans like Ralph come in.

"When they are in that period of depression, hopelessness, there is a place they can turn and there are counselors who might be able to provide services to get them to a safe place," D'Ausilio said

Wednesday's ribbon cutting was for the 2nd phase of a 4 part project.  The final part of the Center of Excellence should be complete by 2016.

The Salisbury VA Healthcare system includes the hospital in Salisbury as well as outpatient clinics in Charlotte, Hickory, and Winston-Salem.