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Former US Sen. Max Cleland’s life celebrated in renaming of Atlanta VA hospital


US Senators, Veterans Administration leaders, Vietnam War veterans, family and friends gathered Friday to celebrate Max Cleland, the late U.S. senator, as they renamed the Atlanta VA hospital in Decatur in his honor. 

U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough joined U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock with Cleland’s loved ones to Cleland’s legacy. Veterans entering the hospital will now see a digital sign that says “Joseph Maxwell Cleland Atlanta VA Medical Center”.

Cleland had a storied career in public service: he was a U.S. Army captain serving in Vietnam when he was injured by a grenade explosion that cost him both legs and his right arms — leaving him dependent on a wheelchair for mobility. He later won a seat in the Georgia Senate, and was later appointed by then-President Jimmy Carter to be administrator of the Veterans Administration.

Cleland worked to create a mental health support structure for returning vets that exists today as the Vets Center program. As a U.S. senator from 1997 to 2003, Cleland championed legislation to create the National Cemetery in Canton.

This day was made possible after Senators Ossoff and Warnock promoted bipartisan legislation in 2022 to rename the medical center for Cleland. Selfless, generous, and a man who believed the best in human nature were among the numerous accolades speaker after speaker attributed to Cleland.

“Let us remember Senator Cleland as a war hero and a tireless champion for our veterans and their families,” said Brown, the director of the Atlanta VA Health Care System. “Let’s honor his legacy by redoubling our efforts to provide the highest quality healthcare and support to those who have borne the burdens of defending our nation.”

Warnock said, “Let’s be clear, the renaming of the Atlanta VA Medical Center is not just about a name. It’s about preserving the memory of a man who believed in the best in human nature.”

Ossoff remembered the late senator as someone who “truly embodied service to the United States.” Ossoff said, “In a literal sense, this man, who left parts of his body on the battlefield, whose service to the country spanned from the battlefields of Vietnam, to the veterans administration under President Carter, to .. his service in the United States senate,” . “He was truly committed to this nation, committed to his fellow Americans, and committed to the state of Georgia.”Both Senators and VA officials said that Cleland’s legacy will further fuel their commitment to improving services for veterans in the Atlanta-area.

A few months ago, the Atlanta VA Medical Center received a less-than-favorable rating from the federal government in terms of its performance. In a survey of hospital quality ratings that encompassed various VA hospitals, approximately two-thirds of them were awarded either four or five stars out of a possible five. However, in contrast, the Atlanta VA Medical Center received only a two-star rating. This rating suggests that there may be areas where improvements in healthcare quality and services are needed at the Atlanta VA.

Ossoff and Warnock have made it clear that they are committed to continuing their efforts to push for improvements within the VA system. Their priorities include reducing wait times for appointments, increasing housing options for veterans, and ensuring that calls made to the VA’s phone system receive timely responses.

An investigation earlier this year by the AJC revealed that veterans in critical situations were encountering difficulties in accessing the healthcare system. The AJC later reported in August that the Atlanta VA has taken steps to bolster its phone system by hiring additional staff to field calls. As a result of these efforts, there has been a reduction in the number of unanswered mental health calls, which is a positive development for veterans in need of immediate assistance.


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