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Bridging the Military-Civilian Divide

First USO Opens Inside a VA Hospital

Tampa’s James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital officially opened a USO July 1, 2014 located next to the Spinal Cord Injury Center where there are many active-duty troops and veterans undergoing long-term rehabilitation.

This is the first time a USO center has been built inside of a veterans’ hospital. Senior Vice President of the USO John Hanson said that although the 1,900-square foot day room is not the largest USO center, its impact will be “profound.”

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Tampa) plays air hockey with a veteran in the new USO Day Room at James A. Haley VA Hospital.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Tampa) plays air hockey with a veteran in the new USO Day Room at James A. Haley VA Hospital.

“I’ll be honest with you. This is an experiment for us,” Hanson said. “Our entire focus for 73 years, more than 73 years, has been on lifting the spirits of active duty troops and their families. This center is going to serve those needs. It’ll also serve the needs of veterans who come here and the active-duty troops recovering from injuries. It’s going to be their place.”

The day room includes a large screen television for games and movies, a “Kids Corner,” a pool table and an air hockey game. And there are plenty of comfortable couches and armchairs where families can gather and chat.

Haley VA Hospital Director Kathleen Fogarty said that the features contribute to the therapy of military patients in the Spinal Cord Injury Center, and give them a “home-like situation.”

Several local Taco Bell restaurants raised $30,000 during their “Freedom Bells” fundraiser for the Armed Forces Families Foundation (AFFF) which contributed to the USO project. The AFFF Managing Director Nick Peters said the donation is a testament to military appreciation within the community.

“When you think about it,” Peters said, “we raised twice as much money for the Armed Forces Families Foundation as we do for Boys & Girls Club and World Hunger, which are great charities, but it gives you a sense of the affinity for the military.”

The USO World Headquarters donated $25,000 to the project, and the Tampa Kiwanis donated $2,500 for the “Kids Corner.” Prior to the Day Room, patients’ time with family was spent in their hospital rooms.