SULPHUR, Okla., (AP) -- The Sulphur Veterans Center is expanding after eight years of being on the verge of closure.
Last month, state officials helped open a new 147-bed, long-term care wing at the center, which employs more than 100 people and is Sulphur's largest employer.
"I'll be honest with you, it didn't look good there for several years," state Rep. Danny Hilliard, D-Sulphur, said. "But we got to work, stayed with it, and finally managed to convince some people how necessary this facility is to the veterans of southern and central Oklahoma."
Center director Mike Walters credited Hilliard for spearheading the new wing.
Hilliard has said he supports using about $12 million of the more than $2 billion that Oklahoma will receive in the nationwide tobacco settlement to pay for capital improvements at the state's veterans centers.
Hilliard told a rally of veterans at the state Capitol in February that about one-half of the servicemen in Oklahoma veterans centers are fighting respiratory ailments.
The $4 million project in Sulphur was funded from state and federal funds and culminated eight years of work. The project gives the state six long-term care wings. The others are at Talihina, Ardmore, Claremore, Clinton and Norman.
The center in Sulphur was threatened with closure after the Veterans Administration notified the state Department of Veterans Affairs that Sulphur's "open ward" design no longer complied with federal guidelines.
Open wards refer to an antiquated hospital design in which all patients are housed in separate beds in one large gymnasium-like room.
Closure would have inconvenienced a number of Oklahoma veterans and their families. Construction on the new wing was completed earlier this summer.