Biloxi's Katrina recovery gets boost

Six contracts have been awarded worth $153.7 million to build new health-care facilities and expand existing services that provide care to veterans in the Biloxi, Miss., area, which was devastated by hurricanes in 2005.

"Rebuilding VA's resources within the Gulfport-Biloxi area is a top priority," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki. "These contracts will allow us to provide our veterans with quality health care, expand our services and stimulate the region's economy."

The projects include an addition to the medical center, a new mental-health facility, a rehabilitation center, an extended-care facility, a parking garage and utility upgrades. The contracts follow a department-wide reorganization of VA's health-care resources. Hurricane Katrina totaled the Gulfport VA Medical Center, which had been marked for closure by the CARES (Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services) report of 2004, which the American Legion provided extensive input. The storm forced an immediate closure and consolidation with Biloxi.

The Biloxi VA Medical Center will get a four-story clinical addition and a new 26-bed rehabilitation facility, where sight-impaired veterans will learn the skills of independent living. The addition will have space for outpatient surgery, a step-down unit, and primary- and specialty-care clinics.

The rehabilitation unit is a stand-alone facility to be built on the Biloxi campus by Brasfield & Gorrie LLC, also of Birmingham, at a cost of $14 million. Plans include separate space for training veterans in skills needed for independent living.

A new parking garage, surface parking and associated site work to improve access to the Biloxi campus and its new buildings and services are being constructed.

Sustainable design components for the nearly 98,000-square-foot facility include using recovered materials, reducing waste and improving energy efficiency. The architectural design is intended to preserve the historic beauty of the Biloxi campus. The anticipated completion of the new mental-health facility is June 2011.

A separate project will improve the campus infrastructure to support the new additions, including expansion of the chilled water and steam plants and their distribution systems and upgrading the electrical system.

In 2008, VA spent more than $1.1 billion in Mississippi on behalf of the state's 212,000 veterans. In addition to the Gulfport-Biloxi facilities, VA operates a major medical center in Jackson, plus nine outpatient clinics, two Vet Centers and three national cemeteries in Mississippi.