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Housing and Medical Relief on the Way for Vets

Jan. 25, 2005 – If all goes as planned, Tuesday will be remembered as a red-letter day for the Territory's veterans. Under a looming sky, amid the ruins of the long-abandoned Virgin Isle hotel, a ceremony heralding the arrival of a low-cost housing and medical complex for veterans was held.
According the project's developer, Robert Wilder of Wilder-Balter Partners, construction is already ahead of schedule for the 163-unit complex that will come with its own 5,000-square-foot medical clinic. "In 16 months you will have the kind of housing development that the people of this community deserve," he said.
It was an emotional ceremony for many, including Harold M. Baker, a veteran and president of Community Housing Corporation, who has been fighting for the center since 1996. "It's a great day for veterans and a great day for the Virgin Islands," he said.
More than 50 residents gathered beneath a sheltering tent, surrounded by debris that was once an elegant hotel, to listen as the project's principals and main supporters each took a turn at the podium.
Former Sen. Norma Pickard Samuel, who sponsored a bill during the 24th Legislature that culminated in Tuesday's ceremony, said, "I'm very happy today because this was dubbed 'The impossible project.'" Pickard, whose husband is a veteran and one or the earliest to sign on to the project, said she fought for the center because she was "disgusted" by the level of services available to the territory's veterans.
Many of those who spoke echoed her concerns, including Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards, who said the center was a long time coming. "I am the son of a veteran, seven of my uncles served in the armed forces, and anything involving veterans I am sworn to uphold," he said.
Samuel Ebbesen, veteran and president of Veterans Resource and Development Inc., a principal in the project, said he participated in military operations in Vietnam that were "easier than this." He said the goal from the beginning was not to just build a housing complex, but to build a veterans center that will be "an example to the nation."
The project comes with a price tag of $28 million, according to Wilder, who said veterans and their families will begin moving into their new homes as early as October or November of this year. He said three-bedroom bungalows are slated for completion first, with the entire project due to wrap up in April 2006. He said there will also be one and two-bedroom units as well as some studios, all equipped with hi-tech hurricane windows. Additionally, units not facing into the trade winds will come with central air-conditioning, and many will include a balcony.
Hubert Raimer, a 20-year veteran and Commander of American Legion Post 90, said he believes the center will be a boon to vets. "Right now, a veteran who needs medical help is going to have to have a pocket full of money to get to Puerto Rico or the States," he said. But he believes the complex will change that. "This housing will be very, very affordable, and veterans will be subsidized if necessary. Getting our veterans off the streets is the whole idea." (For more on the center, see, "Veterans' Initiatives March Forward").

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