Ground broken for Sallisaw veterans center
Deputy Chief Bryan Warner speaks during the Sept. 25 groundbreaking for a new Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs veterans center in Sallisaw. COURTESY
Cherokee Nation Secretary of Veterans Affairs S. Joe Crittenden studies artist renderings of a new veterans center to be built in Sallisaw. Crittenden participated in a groundbreaking for the center on Sept. 25. COURTESY
SALLISAW – On Sept. 25, Cherokee Nation and area leaders broke ground for a new Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs veterans center.
Deputy Chief Bryan Warner, CN Secretary of Veterans Affairs S. Joe Crittenden, Tribal Council members and Career Services Executive Director Diane Kelley joined state and area leaders for the groundbreaking on the 90-acre campus on south Kerr Boulevard.
In 2018, CN officials worked with the Sallisaw officials on relocating the veterans center in Talihina to Sallisaw, which is within the CN jurisdiction. Cherokee Nation Businesses invested $300,000 to help relocate the center and get operations started in Sallisaw.
“Our commitment to veterans just grows with the relocation of this center to Sallisaw,” then-Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in 2018. “Partnerships like this make our entire region stronger. Cherokee Nation is a model for how public-private-tribal partnerships should work.”
According to a 2018 CN press release, the center is relocating from Talihina following a history of poor management and poor care of veterans. House Bill 3042, passed by the Oklahoma Legislature, mandated a new center be located not more than 90 miles or two hours from Talihina, the release states. Sallisaw is about 70 miles from Talihina.
The Talihina facility is one of seven licensed nursing facilities owned and operated by the ODVA. The ODVA determined in 2018 that Sallisaw best meets the criteria set forth by for a new Oklahoma location.
That criteria includes increased availability of support services and skilled nursing home workforce professionals; improved skilled-staff retention; situated in a city with established economic growth; availability of all types of emergency services including fire, police, ambulance, public tornado shelters; sufficient lodging for visitors; proximity to interstate highways and airports to support family transportation; and improved accessibility for facility goods and services suppliers.
The center will be approximately 200,000 square feet in size and provide 180 private resident rooms configured into 10 18-room households. Each household wing will be interconnected with the central community center building. Also, a baseball field and garden areas are included in the design.
In addition to financial assistance, the CN also pledged support through its Career Services program to secure the center’s workforce. Warner said the tribe is “proud” to bring this veterans center to his hometown of Sallisaw.
“We said how can we do this. We need to prepare our hearts for those (veterans) coming here. We’ve still got two years, and we're going to have things coming. The Cherokee Nation was happy to step in,” Warner said.