The Talihina Veterans Center is going to be relocated and three towns in Eastern Oklahoma are trying to get it.
City officials from Muskogee, Sallisaw and Poteau traveled several hours to tour a veterans center in Lawton on Wednesday, according to a sign-in sheet obtained by The Oklahoman. The goal was to view the sort of facility that may be built in their town.
Which town will host the relocated Talihina Veterans Center, which is slated for closure, has been a guarded secret. Employees and city officials in Talihina have outspokenly objected to closure of the center and have feared it will be moved far from their scenic small town in southeastern Oklahoma.
Poteau is 40 miles northeast of the Talihina Veterans Center and by far the closest of the prospective competitors.
“We're in a position where probably a majority of the people currently working in Talihina live within our footprint of employment already,” said Poteau Mayor Jeff Shockley. “So, as much as a few new jobs, it's important to save the jobs that we have, too.”
Talihina and Poteau are divided by a stretch of the Kiamichi Mountains. Shockley estimates about half of Talihina Veterans Center employees live on the Poteau side, making relocation to Poteau the least disruptive option for current employees.
“There will be some people who will drive now that didn't drive before and there will be a lot of people who will drive five miles instead of 40,” the mayor said.
Sallisaw is 75 miles northeast of the Talihina Veterans Center and Muskogee is 85 miles northwest. The Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs has said it will not consider options more than 90 miles away from the current location in Talihina. Veterans Affairs Secretary Myles Deering prefers a locale that's commutable from Talihina.