Wilsonville Spokesman
Group proposes one-stop assistance campus for vets
Rick and Elizabeth Peters have a vision, and Wilsonville is where it could become a reality

By Curt Kipp
There are 366,000 living United States military veterans--men and women who served in peacetime and in war--who call Oregon home.
   As with Oregonians as a whole, more than half of these veterans are living in the greater Portland-Salem area.
   Rick and Elizabeth Peters of Wilsonville want to thank all of them.
   And creating a rolling salute in the form of an airbrushed dump truck painted with words and symbols of thanks--that was just the beginning.
   The Wilsonville couple has huge plans to create a $300 million veterans center to provide medical care, claims servicing and other amenities, all in one convenient location.
   An outpatient clinic. A claims office. A pharmacy. Mental health services. A 300-bed veterans home with skilled nursing and dementia care.
   An 1,500-seat auditorium to be shared with an area church that is presently seeking a larger home.
   A pharmacy. A museum. A fitness facility and an arboretum.
   And office and meeting space for veterans service organizations and other public groups.
   Rick knows of nothing like it in the entire country, though he hopes if it is successful, it becomes a template for other such facilities across the nation. "
We’re talking a major, major facility," he said.
   Logically, they would like to locate it smack dab between Portland and Salem--right here in Wilsonville.
   "
Half of those veterans (in the state) could directly benefit from this facility," Rick said. "That’s huge."
   They have a 51-acre site in mind, which is at present undeveloped. They are keeping its precise location a secret for now. The owner of the site is willing to work with them, but is not committed to the idea.
   For now, the plans are just talk, but the Wilsonville couple--he's an investment adviser, she's a restaurant industry spokeswoman--have major players at the table.
   The idea was born when the Peters were having lunch with Bill McCormick of McCormick & Schmick restaurant fame.
   They mentioned their idea of a memorial veterans’ auditorium, and he advised them to go one better and build an entire center.
   So, in January, the Peters arranged an initial meeting involving several stakeholders, including the property owner, the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs, the interested church, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Response was very positive.
   "We didn’t have to sell them the idea," Rick said. "We just said, look, this is what we can do. And they fell all over it."
   Additional meetings have been held this year, and the Peters also set up a nonprofit corporation called the Oregon Veterans Foundation. In October, the Peters cautiously decided to take their idea public.
   "This thing is just starting to take legs," Elizabeth said. "At any point, it could not happen. There are so many hoops to jump through."
   The Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs would like to see the project come together.
   At present, the state has just one 151-bed veterans home, located in The Dalles.
   Several other states of similar or even smaller size --Oklahoma, Idaho, Washington, Missouri, Colorado-- have between three and seven.
   "At some point in the future, Oregon is no longer going to be able to serve the needs of veterans with one veterans home," said Paula Brown, deputy director of the ODVA.
   Brown and her agency would like to be able to locate a new veterans home at the Oregon Veterans Center.
   "We’re certainly very interested in the concept and the vision that the Peters have," she said. "We’re very interested in locating a veterans home close to the other services veterans and their families would require."
   The agency isn’t committed to the Wilsonville plan or to any location.
   "But lessons learned from The Dalles, we'd be looking for a veterans population area for the benefit of family members," Brown said.
   Something that, unlike downtown Portland, for instance, can easily be navigated by older and disabled veterans. And that could be Wilsonville.
   The grand plans come from a recognition that it is often inconvenient for veterans to claim the services to which they are entitled.
   It should be easier, Rick said, given everything that vets go through, particularly when exposed to combat situations, whether in Korea, Vietnam, the first Gulf War, or the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan today.
   "We're seeing the same symptoms in our men returning," Rick said. "Post traumatic stress disorder. Divorce rates through the roof. Suicides are way up."
   The Peters plan to talk next to Wilsonville city officials and Metro, so that the intended site could be urbanized and supported with the needed infrastructure.
   "We have the strong sense that the city of Wilsonville will have the will to make it happen, once they learn more about it," Rick said.
   Different elements of the campus may be built at different times. The Peters are aware of the need for patience, yet they also know that some of the agencies can’t wait forever for the opportunity to build the various satellite offices and facilities.
   Brown, of ODVA, knows as well — it will take time and dedication to put this ambitious concept together and, she hopes, make it a reality.
   "We're not talking about tomorrow, or next year," Brown said. "It takes time for these things."

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