Las Vegas Sun: Harry Reid tours VA hospital under construction

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday toured the veterans hospital under construction in North Las Vegas for an update on the project and to point toward his tangible accomplishments within the state.

Reid helped to secure funding for the $600.4 million project, which will become the first VA hospital in Southern Nevada. It’s the first VA hospital to be built in the country in 20 years.

The hospital is at 6900 N. Pecos Road near the Las Vegas Beltway. It’s scheduled to open in 2012.

Reid took a 10-minute tour of a portion of the facility. He was joined by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki; John Bright, director of the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System; and Ron Norby, director of the VA Desert Pacific Healthcare Network. They donned hard hats in what will become the entrance to the hospital’s ambulatory care center.

Reid – facing Republican Sharron Angle in a battle to keep his Senate seat – asked about the number of jobs the construction project would create and discussed the benefits of having the facility in the valley.

Bright said that in addition to older veterans, the hospital also would help serve those returning home from current overseas conflicts.

The new hospital will serve as the prototype for similar projects across the country, Reid said.

“It is state of the art,” Reid said during a news conference. “As pleasurable as any hospital can be.”

Shinseki commended Reid and Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley for helping to secure money for the project.

“This medical center is going to increase access,” Shinseki said. “When it opens the hospital will serve about 60,000 unique veterans.”

The project is expected to create about 2,200 jobs in construction and the medical field. About 600 workers are at the site daily, and the project will finish after three years of construction.

Veterans Affairs Network Director Ron Norby (L) speaks to Senator Harry Reid and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki (R) as they tour the VA hospital that is under construction in Las Vegas Tuesday, July 6, 2010. The hospital, serving strictly veterans, is slated to open in 2012.

The hospital will include 90 inpatient beds and 20 mental health beds, and will work with four primary care clinics in the valley.

Carole Turner, deputy executive director for the Nevada office of Veterans Affairs, said when she moved to the valley from the East Coast three years ago, she was disappointed there were no VA hospitals nearby.

Turner served in the Air Force’s nurse corps from 1973 to 1975 and was eligible for care at VA facilities. She said the new building is essential for Southern Nevada’s veterans.

“Being a nurse, I can appreciate the state-of-the-art aspect of it,” she said. “The veterans here are fortunate.”

Reid’s campaign launched an ad July 2 touting the hospital. In the ad, Vietnam veteran Jim Johnson speaks of the inconvenience of traveling to San Diego for VA hospital care.

The tour was also a chance for Reid to showcase his accomplishments in Nevada, which is stumbling through the state’s worst recession in decades and has the nation’s highest unemployment rate. Several recent polls have showed Reid trailing Angle, who has criticized Reid for not being able to deliver for Nevada.

Eric Herzik, a UNR political scientist, said these types of tours and ads will likely become cornerstones of Reid’s campaign.

“Many of the items Reid assists with are not big and flashy,” he said. “People lose sight of the items that aren’t, but they can be just as important.”

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