OGDEN -- After a long battle, Utah veterans now have a state-of-the-art nursing home named in honor of one of their own. The George E. Wahlen Ogden Veterans Home opened Thursday with hundreds of veterans on hand.
Key veterans started to push for this project more than six years ago. Along the way, the veterans home became more than just a nursing home; it became a symbol for how we treat the men and women who fought for our country.
The George E. Wahlen Ogden Veterans Home will care for the needs of generations of Utah troops. It also stands as a monument to the Utah warriors who fought in battles from the shores of Iwo Jima to the jungles of Vietnam, and now the streets of Baghdad and the mountains of Afghanistan.
Director of the Utah Division of Veterans Affairs Terry Schow lobbied legislators, along with George Wahlen, to build the $20 million facility.
"It's very moving," Schow said of Thursday's dedication. "The only sad thing is that it's missing George [Wahlen]. But it was a great battle, and this is a tribute to him."
Wahlen died this summer, but the wife and son of the Congressional Medal of Honor recipient echoed his passion for the care of our veterans. The Navy corpsman was awarded our nation's highest military honor for his heroism at Iwo Jima, as he saved comrades in spite of his own wounds.
"If he were here today, he would be shaking his head saying, 'This is not about me. This is about the sacrifices of so many, that we can enjoy the freedoms that we have,'" Wahlen's son, Blake Wahlen, said.
The interior of the veterans home is very warm and welcoming. Four 30-bed pods extend from the center of the facility. They are considered neighborhoods, rather than wings in a hospital.
All rooms are comfortable and roomy. In the semi-private rooms, the residents share only a bathroom. Schow said dignity and respect for the veterans and their families was the objective.
The demand for the facility is critical. Schow said the first residents move in during January, and the facility will fill in a matter of months.
"We have thousands of veterans who need long-term care, and they get special benefits from the VA, and we did not have adequate facilities. So, this is a great stepping stone," said construction advisor Dennis McFall.
Former Utah Jazz coach and executive Frank Layden is an Army veteran. He gave the keynote address at Thursday's dedication ceremony.
Well known for his humor, Layden had the crowd boiling with laughter before he focused on the purpose of the facility. In the years to come, he said it is our duty to keep the facility in top condition.
"This is our way, in a small way, to pay back these people who have paid such a tremendous price for our freedoms," Layden said.
The state paid for the facility up front to get the job done but expects two-thirds reimbursement from the federal government later this year or early next year.