V.A. Home ground breaking expected by Spring – The Southeast Sun

“I’m becoming a regular visitor here,” said Kent Davis with a smile as he surveyed the crowd at the Enterprise Civic Center. “And I hope I continue to be a regular visitor as we move along with several things going on here.”

A retired rear admiral, Davis is the state commissioner of the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs. He was the keynote speaker at the Enterprise Veterans Tribute Ceremony held at the civic center Nov. 9.

The event was the third of three paying tribute to Enterprise area veterans during the week. The first was a wreath-laying ceremony Nov. 8 held at the Wall of Freedom at the Enterprise Recreation complex to honor fallen heroes. A Parade of Veterans was held at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 9 on East College Street.

“It is important that communities like this stop each year to remember all those who have served in uniform,” Davis said. “I’m so grateful to be here in Coffee County near our friends at Fort Rucker.”

Introducing Marie Nelson, the Coffee County Veterans Service Officer, Davis said, “We already have a presence here and we are going to have a much bigger presence here real soon.”

The “bigger presence” Davis referred to is the state’s fifth veterans home to be built in Enterprise. “They will be finishing up the design work in the next couple of months and we will go to the next phase which is awarding a general construction contract—a ground breaking ceremony will be held probably in late spring.”

Davis said construction of the single-story 182,000 square foot facility which will provide skilled care for eligible veterans, is expected to be complete in 2023. “Then we’ll hire an operator to come in and hire medical staff,” he said.

Once at full capacity, the home is projected to employ approximately 250 people and the projected annual payroll—based on the average of the existing four state veterans’ homes—is from $7.5 million to $8.75 million.

Davis said the unanimous decision in October 2018 by the State Board of Veterans Affair to build a fifth veterans home came after a 2018 feasibility study commissioned by ADVA to determine the long-term health care needs of veterans in the state. The study determined that it should be in Southeast Alabama.

“We had the longest waiting list for veterans homes than any state in the United States,” Davis said. “This is not a statistic that I am proud of. They confirmed what we already knew and that was that we needed a new state veterans home and that study also showed that the area most in need was the Wiregrass region.”

The Request for Site Selection Proposal sought a minimum of 27 acres of land to construct the $65 million 175-bed facility. The proposals received from municipalities and counties were evaluated in terms of five factors, which included the size and location; transportation accessibility; workforce; specialized healthcare services within proximity of the site; and any additional relevant information.

“We did it right. We did full and open competition,” said Davis about the official RSSP distributed July 15, 2019 in the designated service area that includes Coffee, Dale, Barbour, Butler, Covington, Crenshaw, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Pike Counties. Most areas within those counties are beyond a 60-minute drive time from a state veterans home, the feasibility study found.

“We put out requests for proposals to all the municipalities in the Wiregrass region and we were overwhelmed with the interest that was received,” he said. “We got 12 proposals that were submitted and it was a six-month, very thorough selection process.”

The Veterans Homes Committee reviewed 12 site proposals submitted by jurisdictions in the Wiregrass Region based on five factors—favorability of the plot of land proposed; transportation accessibility; workforce availability; specialized healthcare services within proximity of the site; and additional factors identified by the proposer, according to a news release from the veterans’ affairs board following the vote.

Enterprise was chosen as the site at the Alabama Board of Veterans Affairs meeting held Jan. 3, 2020 in Montgomery. “You should be proud because it was very, very tough competition. I didn’t get a vote but it was pretty obvious who the winner was going to be, I thought, based on the proposals,” Davis said. “Your city and county fathers did a great job on their proposal and we’re so proud of the decision that was made.

“It will be an economic infusion into this community of about $78 million construction project overall but will benefit the entire Wiregrass region. It will create a lot of jobs, too,” Davis said. “Our primary motive is taking care of veterans and that is why we are building the home but we recognize that an incidental benefit is an economic benefit to the entire Wiregrass region.”

The Enterprise facility will be located on 108 acres off Highway 51 just north of Yancey Parker Industrial Park.

At an Alabama State Board of Veterans Affairs public meeting held July 9 at the Enterprise Civic Center, the SBVA selected the name by majority decision for the new 182,000 square feet facility that will house 175 residents. The home will be called the Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie G. Adkins State Veterans Home and will house about 174 veteran residents. “Services will include everything from geriatric care to handling disabled veterans to a memory care unit for advanced Alzheimer and dementia patients,” Davis said.

“To honor someone like Bennie Adkins is wholly appropriate. He was a true American and Alabama hero,” Davis told the crowd of civic leaders, veterans and family members at the tribute ceremony. “He was a United States Army soldier and the recipient of the United States military’s highest honor, the Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam.”

In March 1966, Adkins distinguished himself during a 38-hour close combat battle against North Vietnamese Army forces during the Battle of A Shau. At the time Adkins was a sergeant first class serving as an Intelligence Sergeant with Detachment A-102, 5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces.

Adkins retired from the Army in 1978 at the rank of command sergeant major. After retirement Adkins earned a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees from Troy State University, as it was called then, Davis said.

Adkins operated his own accounting company and taught class at Southern Union Junior College and Auburn University. On May 12, 2017, Troy University Chancellor Dr. Jack Hawkins Jr. awarded Adkins an honorary doctorate degree. “For many of those who had the honor of meeting him, including me on several occasions, will never forget him,” Davis said. “He was a great man.”

In March 2020, Adkins was hospitalized with COVID-19. He was admitted to the intensive care unit and put on a ventilator after experiencing respiratory failure He died on April 17, 2020, from complications of the virus at the age of 86.

“We are proud to honor him with a permanent memorial with the new state veterans home bearing his name,” Davis said. “Adkins in one of a long line of distinguished line of veterans from the state of Alabama, many of whom are here with us today. Stories like these need to be shared, told and remembered.”

The ADVA currently operates the Bill Nichols State Veterans Home in Alexander City, Tut Fann State Veterans Home in Huntsville, William F. Green State Veterans Home in Bay Minette and the Col. Robert L. Howard State Veterans Home in Pell City. They collectively provide care to 704 veterans with a staff of some 900.