Local News

Unique NC center aims to get veterans back on their feet

Posted October 27, 2017 7:03 p.m. EDT
Updated October 27, 2017 7:12 p.m. EDT

— Veterans face challenges of homelessness and post-traumatic stress disorder more than ever before, and a first-of-its kind facility in Butner is designed to meet the needs of a new generation of veterans.

Officials broke ground Friday on the 100-bed Veterans Life Center in Butner, which will provide transitional housing, medical care and job training to veterans who are having a hard time transitioning back to civilian life when it opens in early 2019.

Thirty to 40 professional staff members will help residents get to the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Durham or to drug or alcohol treatment, if needed. Counseling will be available at the nearby Central Regional Hospital, and the local community college will provide education and job training programs.

Executive director John Turner said the goal is to provide wrap-around support to help troubled veterans become self-reliant again.

Turner is the driving force behind the VLC. After his return from Iraq in 2006, he became active in veterans causes and met numerous elected leaders. A passing conversation about that at the Cary VFW in 2009 led to the VLC, he said.

"The guy says, 'You have this connection. Are you going to get yourself, are you going to use those connections to get yourself a job and go somewhere? Or are you going to use those connections to help veterans?'" Turner said. "I chose to do this.

"This" turned out to be eight years of Turner's life, as he traveled around North Carolina and Washington, D.C., knocking on doors to raise money, talk to politicians and forge alliances between nonprofits, private industry and local, state and federal leaders.

"The hardest part would be on some of the darkest days, if this failed with the support we had, then it's never going to happen, because if we can't do it with all this support, then it can't be done," he said.

But it didn't fail, and construction will begin next week, thanks to the largest community development block grant in state history – about $8 million.

"Let me just tell you something about John Turner. If he enters your office, just go ahead and say yes. Don't even wait to find out what he wants," U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis joked during Friday's ground-breaking ceremony.

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr said the project shows what one person who decides to be the solution can accomplish.

"In large measure, the VLC will serve as an example of how America can change to meet the needs of people who make the unbelievable sacrifices that our soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen make," Burr said.