Vets’ center a good fit for Suffolk

Published 9:26 pm Thursday, September 6, 2012

On a field on Pitchkettle Road, a Suffolk man hopes to build his vision of America’s “first” non-government rehabilitation center for veterans.

Buddy Joyner and his partner on the project, Michael Tacoronte, say that it would help wounded warriors and veterans get back on their feet and lead productive lives.

Plans for the 101-acre center include housing, a healing center, and commercial enterprises from which veterans could ease themselves back into self-sufficiency through employment.

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The idea, the men say, is to make the center self-supporting via business activity and private donations.

They have presented the plans to at least one federal politician, but are not asking for the government to build this thing for them. They’re doing it themselves.

Why should an unprecedented facility such as this be built here? Hampton Roads has the largest concentration of military facilities of any metropolitan area in the world, and a burgeoning veteran community.

According to a U.S. Census Bureau survey, 3,583 citizens in Suffolk had a service-connected disability in 2010, and 12,313 citizens were classified as veterans.

The same survey calculated that, in a statistical district taking in most of Hampton Roads, 7,105 citizens had a service-connected disability, and 21,267 were veterans.

Since those latest figures were collected in 2010, troops have flooded home from Iraq, and increasingly also from Afghanistan.

So Hampton Roads starts looking like a good place to situate a facility to help veterans transition into civilian life, and within the region, a relative abundance of developable land makes Suffolk a logical city for it.

Joyner and his siblings plan to build the center largely on land bequeathed by their mother, an amputee who struggled to remain independent into her old age, and who also donated to veterans’ causes.

As with any large-scale development, there are bound to be some hurdles to overcome. But Tacoronte, a real estate agent, says the city is supportive.

It could be a project that puts Suffolk on the map for a worthy cause. As well as helping veterans, it would also create general employment, especially during construction.

It is being proposed by private interests and would utilize private resources, so taxpayers need not worry.

Joyner said of veterans, “Nobody wants them; they’re damaged goods. Families look at them as a burden — many of them — and the community looks on them as another drag on resources.

“We look at them as potential.”