WHITE CITY — For the second consecutive year, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center & Clinics, formerly known as the VA Domiciliary, has received a national award for excellence.

WHITE CITY — For the second consecutive year, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center & Clinics, formerly known as the VA Domiciliary, has received a national award for excellence.

The center was the recipient of the 2006 Robert W. Carey Performance Excellence Award for long-term health care during a recent ceremony in Washington, D.C.

"This award attests to the exceptional talent and dedication of our staff," said Max McIntosh, SORCC director. "We're fortunate that we attract very high quality individuals here. We consider ourselves top feeders. We seek the best when we recruit.

"But we also consider ourselves a learning organization — that means we try to be very flexible and adaptable," he added. "We continue to try to increase our excellence across the organization."

The award is named in memory of Robert W. Carey, director of the VA's Philadelphia Regional Office and Insurance Center from 1985 until 1990. The award recognizes VA facilities that have high levels of performance and service to veterans.

In winning the prestigious award, SORCC competed with more than 150 VA organizations across the nation. SORCC also won the Carey award in 1994 and 2005.

Established in 1942 at the Army's Camp White, which was built in the early days of World War II, SORCC currently has about 500 patients from more than 30 states and some 13,000 outpatients from Southern Oregon and Northern California. It has about 400 employees.

The outpatient population has grown about 15 percent in the past year, reflecting the population growth in the region, officials said. For instance, Jackson County's population has increased by about 21,000 since 2000.

"This area is growing and with that the veteran population," McIntosh said.

In response to that growth, including future patients from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, SORCC is adding a new 64-bed residential care building. The 20,000-square-foot housing unit, the first step in a three-phase expansion project, is expected to open this spring.

When the entire project is completed in roughly three years, SORCC will be a 600-bed facility. SORCC now has 500 beds, although it could house up to 755 patients in a crisis by establishing temporary quarters in buildings now being employed for other uses, officials said.

In addition to serving veterans from past conflicts, the facility already has both outpatient and residential clients who are veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, reflecting a much quicker response to veterans' needs than their counterparts received upon returning from the Vietnam War, observed Dr. Andy Mebane, SORCC chief of staff.

Several people have been hired to address issues specific to Iraq and Afghanistan returnees, he said, noting that includes a program coordinator and case manager.

"We also have people engaged with their families to help them," said Mebane, chairman of the Jefferson Health Care Alliance, a group of health care leaders from throughout the region who work together to address medical needs.

The fact a recent study revealed that veterans make up about 25 percent of the homeless population across the nation isn't surprising, Mebane said.

"About eighty percent of the people who come in here have not had a stable living environment in the past year," Mebane said. "They call themselves 'homeless.' That's part of our mission."

Getting those veterans back on their feet takes a long-term commitment, he stressed.

"What makes the SORCC unique is that we can keep people long enough to see meaningful changes," he said.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.