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Get moving on center for vets

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Some things are so critically needed that they merit greater urgency than government usually delivers. And perhaps the powers that be already realize this, but it bears repeating, for the record: A planned treatment center for veterans is one of these things.

The proposal for a Veterans Affairs post-traumatic stress disorder treatment center on the Tripler Army Medical Center campus actually was approved by the VA and funded in 2006. The original timeline had the facility opening in 2008.

The fact that it’s now 2011 and what appears to be a bureaucratic squabble has postponed its construction is simply unconscionable. Officials at the federal and state levels must stop stumbling over legal hurdles and get this clinic built to treat the many war veterans desperately in need of sustained treatment and support.

It appears that the endgame is finally within view, but no more time should be lost on pointing fingers.

The crux of the dispute is no small matter. Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 requires federal agencies to address how a project affects historic properties, and the sprawling Tripler campus is under consideration for the historic register.

However, the original, pristine environment already has been altered with other buildings, and this should weaken the case against building the PTSD center altogether. Surely, some compromise in which design of the new facility could mitigate its effect should have been possible.

Historic preservation is an important consideration, but government policy always is a matter of balancing interests. Treatment of PTSD sufferers meanwhilegoes on at Tripler and in other locations around the island, but with so many veterans rotating out of service, the capacity to heal them must be strengthened.

The 14,000-square-foot, $10 million facility has the potential to do just that. Treatment of soldiers who have borne the scars of war — both the physical ailments and unseen injuries — unquestionably saves lives. The critical need for those services for a nation at war ought to move such a project to the top of the priority list.

The proposed site would afford those soldiers a measure of privacy as well as access to other adjoining Tripler facilities that they also need.

A draft of a memorandum of agreement settling the dispute is circulating this week. There’s every reason to accelerate final approval, given that the earliest that ground could be broken is later this year, with construction anticipated to take 18 months. That would push completion past the time American troops are expected to be out of Iraq.

Those soldiers, and the ones who come after them, deserve every effort that their government can make. It’s the least Hawaii’s leaders can do for those who made such a great sacrifice for their country.

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