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VA Secretary Praises Sarasota's Patriot Plaza

Problems with veterans’ health care and benefits have dominated recent headlines. But there is one section at the Department of Veterans Affairs that ranks first in customer satisfaction over both private-sector companies and other federal agencies.

That’s a point VA Secretary Bob McDonald was quick to point out when he visited Florida earlier this month. The National Cemetery Administration (NCA) is ranked first in the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

“We want our national cemeteries to be shrines,” McDonald said, “Shrines that really demonstrate the care of our American people for our veterans.”

Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
One of the dozens of photographs of military service members that are part of the Patriot Plaza artwork.

McDonald believes the Sarasota National Cemetery is such a showcase or shrine with its Patriot Plaza Amphitheater and numerous art installations worth $12 million, all privately funded by the Patterson Foundation based in Sarasota.

“They have done an outstanding job choosing the artwork in that facility,” McDonald said. “There are photographs- for me as veteran, an airborne ranger, that capture many of the situations I’ve been in.”

The Patterson Foundation funded Patriot Plaza and the public art to create a place for “deep experience” at the Sarasota National Cemetery, said Debra Jacobs, president and CEO of the Patterson Foundation.

“By having Patriot Plaza, those who come to visit family, those who come now to visit the art, they will each have their own private time and space for reflection and experiencing and affirming why we live in the greatest country on the globe,” Jacobs said.

Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
The Patriot Plaza Amphitheater can accommodate 2,800 people keeping them shaded during Florida's scorching summers.

The Patterson Foundation partnership with NCA is the first of its kind among the 131 cemeteries run by the VA. Jacobs hopes Sarasota’s Patriot Plaza will serve as a model for others to follow.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller (FL-R), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, called it a “perfect partnership.”

“That facility down there from start to finish was magnificently designed. And then, to have an organization to come in and put the money behind it, a private organization,” Miller said. “Public-private partnerships work.”

Miller added that Patriot Plaza gives people an opportunity to learn about freedom and the sacrifice of those who serve to defend the country.

To celebrate Patriot Plaza and in honor of Veterans Day, the Patterson Foundation is sponsoring a national, Veterans Legacy Summit Nov. 14-15 which is designed to build connections for veterans and military families.

All the summit events are free from the film festival and discussion panels to performances by the West Point Band and the keynote address by best-selling author Wes Moore. However, registration is required for the Veterans Legacy Summit.

Reporting for the WUSF Veterans Coming Home project is made possible by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Bobbie O’Brien has been a Reporter/Producer at WUSF since 1991. She reports on general news topics in Florida and the Tampa Bay region.
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