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Veterans Recovery Resources, a “by veteran, for veteran” nonprofit, community-based wellness program dedicated to supporting a life of flourishing for those who have served, held a groundbreaking ceremony on the state’s first inpatient detox and residential recovery center on Springhill Avenue today. The former Raphael Semmes School will be converted to house “a clinically managed detoxification and residential treatment program in order to decrease substance abuse disorder.”

When complete, the facility will include eight beds for clinically monitored detox, 16 beds for residential treatment and 20 beds of supervised short-term, nonclinical care for veterans who are transitioning from homelessness and waiting for residential treatment.

At the ceremony this morning, VRR Executive Director John Kilpatrick nodded to the existing outpatient clinic next door, where more than 400 patients have been served in the past two years.

“This is really a project for our community,” he said. “Because what we know is veterans serve our community better, more, and in a better capacity than almost any other citizen. And when we have a veteran who can’t serve because of their addictions or because of mental health problems, our community loses out on another person paying taxes, another person serving our school board, another person serving in their church, another person coaching little league sports … it’s just a multiplier.”

Kilpatrick said VRR will begin stabilizing and cleaning the structure before construction and renovation can begin sometime around September 2021.

“We’ve got the money we need for phase one of this project, which is to repair the roof, and get it ready so that our architects and engineers can do the work they need to do, but we still got a long way to go,” he said.

Last month, Kilpatrick told Lagniappe VRR had raised about $4.4 million of the estimated $6.5 million to bring the project to reality.

Former Mobile Mayor Mike Dow, a Vietnam veteran and vice president of the VRR board of directors, said he sees the positive effects of the nonprofit every day. Speaking about fundraising efforts, Dow said many donors in the community share the same values of the organization.

“It’s up to each one of us to go out in the community and have these quiet conversations over coffee and say, ‘look, we need X amount of dollars to get this detox center put in place because 50 percent of our veterans have at least one if not more [afflictions] and they can’t go to the next step,’” Dow said. “We can’t help them like we talked about helping them until we get them past that point. And they are the first to lose their jobs, they lose their families, they get kind of discouraged and get into a situation where they’ve got nowhere to go. And that’s just all our fault.”

Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson was also on hand, noting the city entered into a partnership with the nonprofit to provide the same services to its first responders. Stimpson said he anticipates the renovation of the historic school building will “be an anchor to help transform this entire area of Spring Hill Avenue and this community.”

Further, Stimpson pledged a $200,000 donation from the city pending the approval of the City Council.

Adm. Kent Davis, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs, praised VRR and said there is currently no detox center south of Birmingham, and no detox center focused solely on veterans anywhere in the state. Alabama has roughly 400,000 veterans.

“[Veterans Recovery Resources] has provided incredible outpatient services, both for physical and sometimes those invisible mental wounds amongst our veterans,” he said. “What we’ve been missing in the state is definitely more inpatient services for veterans. We’ve really seen that over the last nine months with the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a sad fact — something that we don’t like to talk about — but I tried to bring awareness to this: Alabama has one of the highest rates of veteran suicides in the nation. That’s not something to be proud of. We can’t address issues like that without partnerships across the state and the public and private sector working together to address all of those goals.”

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