Tuskegee, AL -- Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS) recently celebrated 85 years of service to our nation's heroes at Tuskegee VA Medical Center (VAMC) in a ceremony that featured choral performances, fellowship with community leadership and the special recognition of Tuskegee's rich heritage.
"Today we celebrate 85 years of service," said CAVHCS Acting Director Shirley Bealer. "It's almost impossible to fathom the lives involved during that timeframe. From veterans and providers to support staff and family members, Tuskegee Veterans Medical Center has directly affected literally tens of thousands of lives."
Tuskegee VA Hospital's history began following World War I, when the Treasury Department Hospitalization Committee found that it was almost impossible to secure proper treatment for Negro soldiers in mixed hospitals for war veterans in the South.
Congress authorized the U.S. Treasury to build a hospital solely for the care of more than 300,000 black veterans in the South. The hospital, which was constructed at a cost of $2,500,000, featured 27 permanent buildings on a total of 464 acres of land adjoining the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute campus.
The dedication ceremony of the Tuskegee VA Hospital, which was then known as the Hospital for Sick and Injured Colored World War Veterans occurred on February 12, 1923. The institution was passed, in authority, from the U.S. Treasury to the U.S. Veterans Bureau (which later became the Veterans Administration on July 21, 1930).
"Despite it's origin in a turbulent, segregated South - Tuskegee has grown with our nation," said Bealer. "Together, we have evolved to provide both opportunity and quality care to our nation's heroes regardless of race, creed, sex or socio-economic status."
The 2008 ceremony featured a new award presented in recognition Dr. Toussaint T. Tildon, one of the first six African American doctors to begin treating veterans in Tuskegee. Dr. Tildon arrived in Tuskegee after graduating from Harvard with a Medical Degree and started his career as a young doctor working in psychiatry. Thirty-four years of dedicated service later, Dr. Tildon retired after serving for nine years as Tuskegee's Director.
"In 1923 young African American health care professionals were drawn to Tuskegee," said Bealer. "They knew the nation would take stock in their ability and they knew they would not only be able to provide care for black veterans, but they would also serve as beacons for other young African Americans. Their commitment and professionalism would be scrutinized, measured and compared to the highest standards."
First to receive The Dr. Toussaint T. Tildon Memorial Award for Outstanding Service was Air Force Master Sgt. (Ret.) Leon Crayton.
"Of course Dr. Tildon's commitment and professionalism were not the only shining examples for young African Americans to emanate brightly from Tuskegee over the years," said Bealer. "Synonymous with Tuskegee is another group that were scrutinized, measured and compared to the highest standards. The expertise, accomplishments and downright heroism of the Tuskegee Airmen have been well chronicled throught the years, and we are honored to recognize their commitment today."
"On behalf of the Tuskegee Airmen-Tuskegee Chapter, I accept this presentation," said Crayton. "Time is a very important factor. It is written in the scripture, that there is a time for everything. So, if I were to leave you with a thought it would be this. When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. So God bless America. God bless Tuskegee and God Bless this VA institution."
According to the citation on the Tildon Memorial Award, "Recipients of this award are recognized for sharing Dr. Tildon's sense of purpose, resolve and professionalism. It is intended that in doing so, bestowing this award will not only serve as a tangible connection to a proud heritage, but will also serve to point the way as we move forward. Dr. Tildon's devotion to duty, community and compassionate treatment of the human spirit serves to inspire us today as it most assuredly did when he served."
In keeping with the design to point toward a bright future, next to receive the Tildon Memorial Award were the CAVHCS 2007 Employees of the Year, Mrs. Donzella Bozeman and Mr. Billy Cook. "I was almost brought to tears," said Cook. "The ceremony itself was wonderful, but when they gave me this award...it was touching. To serve 34 years here at Tuskegee - to do anything for that long - Dr. Tildon must have loved what he was doing. I think that's something we have in common."
For one attendee, the ceremony was even more moving. "I thought the ceremony was just beautiful, but to me it was so special, because my father was Toussaint T. Tildon," said Elizabeth Tildon Wood. "For him to be honored like this today was just so moving."
The presentation of the inaugural Tildon Memorial Award was a surprise to Dr. Tildon's third child and served to culminate an emotional morning. "Nobody told me, but I was just so happy," said Wood. "I didn't have any idea. I walked into the auditorium and saw a picture of daddy at his desk with some other gentlemen. I haven't looked at the program yet. I just knew I'd cry if I read the program. I'm waiting until I get home." When asked about her feeling about how the Tildon Memorial Award would be used in the future Wood beamed. "Giving it to the Employees of the Year was just so wonderful," said Wood. "That was just the kind of thing my dad would have done."
"For the past eight decades, we have been woven into the very fabric of the Tuskegee and Central Alabama communities," said Bealer. "Today - as we celebrate a rich heritage of service, we can also look forward with confidence that our future is bright. That future is not only ensured by our staff's commitment to excellence, but also by our established regional centers of excellence in Geriatric, Long-Term Care, Rehabilitation and Mental Health."
"Looking at Tuskegee's future, I can tell you that we will remain committed to keeping three promises to all of our veterans," said Veterans Integrated Service Network 7 (VISN 7) Director, Dr. Lawrence Biro. "We will continue to ensure that we provide quality care second to none; we will maintain as well as expand services to veterans and we will ensure that every veteran is personally satisfied based on the outcome if their treatment."