It’s been nearly 2 ½ years since Enterprise was chosen as the site of the fifth veterans home in the state at the Alabama Board of Veterans Affairs meeting held Jan. 3, 2020 in Montgomery and the groundbreaking for the 182,000 square-foot facility took place on Friday, June 17.

“Today is a great day for the military veterans of Alabama,” said Kent Davis, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs. “One that would not have been possible without incredible efforts of several partners who have come together to make today’s groundbreaking event possible.

“Partnership is the key term for today’s event. Several partners deserve our well-deserved thanks,” Davis said. “First I want to thank the City of Enterprise, Coffee County and the entire Wiregrass region for the incredible community support and contributions you have made to get us to today’s groundbreaking event. I also want to include our brothers and sisters from Fort Rucker whose outpouring and support for this state veteran’s home has been absolutely outstanding.

“This entire community also includes the wonderful veteran’s service organizations, local churches and the many private companies and non-profits who have been so supportive of this entire project. To all of them, we say thank you.”

Davis also thanked the Wiregrass academic community including the secondary schools, Enterprise State Community College and Troy University for educating and training many of the future employees that will work in the new veteran’s home. He also thanked the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs for providing many of the construction funds that will build the home as well as Gov. Kay Ivey and the Alabama Legislature for funds to help in the establishment of the home.

On April 7, it was announced that the ADVA had been awarded a $39 million construction grant by the U.S. Veterans Administration, which will help build the long-term health care facility in Enterprise. In addition, on May 9 the Alabama Legislature passed a $6 million appropriation to help offset the the spike in increased construction costs since the project was first announced. The state’s fifth veterans home is to be built between Highway 51 and Highway 167 North near Yancey Parker Industrial Park in Enterprise.

Building a new state veterans home is about a six-year process, said Davis. The unanimous decision in October 2018 by the State Board of Veterans Affairs 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. “In that year (2018), the Alabama state homes system, consisting of four homes, had a very long waiting list of potential residents, probably the longest waiting list in the nation,” said Davis, which led to the feasibility study. He said the study results revealed the area of the state that most needed a new home was the Wiregrass.

The official Request for Site Selection Proposals was 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.

The RSSP 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. The Veterans Homes Committee reviewed 12 site proposals submitted by jurisdictions in the Wiregrass Region before choosing Enterprise.

At an Alabama State Board of Veterans Affairs public meeting held July 9 at the Enterprise Civic Center, the SBVA selected by majority decision the name of the new home to be the Command Sgt. Maj. Bennie G. Adkins VA Home, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient. 

“Bennie G. Adkins is an American hero,” said Scott Gedling, vice chairman of the State Board of Veterans Affairs. Adkins served in the U.S. Army for more than 20 years but it was his heroic actions during the second of three deployments to Vietnam that led him to receive the Medal of Honor in 2014. He distinguished himself during 38 hours of close-combat fighting while serving as an Intelligence Sergeant with the 5thSpecial Forces Group at Camp A Shau in the Republic of Vietnam from March 9-12, 1966.

When the camp was attacked, then Sgt. 1stClass Adkins rushed through intense enemy fire and manned a mortar position defending the camp. He continued to mount a defense even while receiving several direct hits from enemy mortars. He temporarily turned over the mortar to another soldier and ran through exploding mortar rounds to rescue several soldiers wounded near the center of camp. By the end of the battle, Adkins was hit 18 times by enemy fire.

“For the state veterans home to be named in honor of Bennie G. Adkins is actually our honor to have the name of this American hero attached to this facility,” said Gedling.

Adkins son, Dr. Keith Adkins, spoke of his father’s community service and how he wanted to continue to serve after his military service ended. Bennie G. Adkins earned a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees and taught GED courses in the county jail and adult education courses in community colleges.

“My dad was a humble man and appreciative of all the accolades he received but again, his goal was to serve and to continue to sacrifice,” Keith Adkins said. His father also established a non-profit in the mid-80s, the Bennie Adkins Foundation which awards educational scholarships to Green Berets and non-commissioned officers. His family continues those efforts on his behalf.

“What we are really celebrating today is what this facility stands for,” said Enterprise Mayor William E. Cooper. “We could not be happier that this home will embrace our nation’s most precious treasures, a band of brothers and sisters who have served and sacrificed for you and I to have the way of life we enjoy today.

“No journey that leads to success is done alone. This project wouldn’t be possible without the combined efforts of many people and agencies,” said Cooper. He thanked the Wiregrass Economic Development Corporation; Enterprise Water Works; utility partners Alabama Power Company, Southeast Gas, C-Spire and Power South for all they do for economic development in the community and the region; and medical facility partners like Medical Center Enterprise.

“I can’t say enough about the assistance and support coming from (Coffee County Commission Chairman) Dean Smith, County Administrator Rod Morgan and the entire Coffee County Commission,” They were a vital part of our proposal team and they championed this project from the start. It takes a team to tackle big projects and bring various talents to the table.

“Today is momentous but it doesn’t mean that our journey is over,” said Cooper. “The same people who have been supporting this project since the beginning will continue to be behind it. We expect Enterprise and the surrounding communities to fully embrace the veterans who will live and and be a part of our Wiregrass family.”

Smith talked about being chairman of the Coffee County Commission with seven commissioners that represent the whole county and working with members of the legislature on a project like this. “Trying to herd all those politicians toward a common goal can sometimes be challenging,” he said. “With this project, it was never challenging. Everyone wanted to know what they could do in their part.”

Once at full capacity of 175 veterans, 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.

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.

“We plan to open the doors of this new home in 2024. When we do, please note that you have our solemn promise this new home will be one of great service, respect and deep honor to the military veterans who will become its residents,” Davis said.

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