Our View

VA buildings are legacies of war; they need help

By From page A6 | November 19, 2013

The issue: These buildings, where so many have been healed, are reminders that the wages of war must still be paid long after the last shot is fired

One of the legacies of America’s wars is the institutions, the Veterans Affairs hospitals and convalescent centers, where in Lincoln’s words we strive “to care for him who has borne the battle …”

SOME OF THESE utilitarian buildings were thrown up quickly to handle the sudden demands of war. Others, especially those erected in the aftermath of the Civil War, are both medical facility and monument, and are architecturally elaborate.

They are also often unsuited to the needs of modern medicine. The VA, having more pressing problems in the aftermath of Iraq and Afghanistan, does not have the money or the manpower to make them so.

Unfortunately, many of the roughly 2,000 historic buildings inherited by the VA are at risk of demolition for having outlived their immediate usefulness, or they’re being allowed to deteriorate to the point where they’ll have to be demolished.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, in a new report, says the condition of many of these historic buildings has reached “crisis proportions” because of poor VA stewardship.

TWO BUILDINGS at particular risk are the Old Main building, a Victorian landmark at the Milwaukee Soldiers Home, and the Battle Mountain Sanitarium in Hot Springs, S.D., opened in 1907 especially to deal with veterans with respiratory diseases.

The National Trust’s report blamed poor management by the VA. According to The Washington Post, these historic buildings “are at risk of demolition because the department often ignores federal laws that protect such structures and overestimates the cost and feasibility of preservation.”

Demolishing these historic buildings would quite simply be a crime. If the VA doesn’t want them, surely someone does — someone willing to repurpose the buildings while leaving the exterior and significant interior spaces intact.

ASIDE FROM THEIR historic worth and whatever architectural merit they may have, these buildings are survivors of America’s wars. They’ve healed so many. And they serve as reminders that the wages of war must still be paid long after the last shot is fired.

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