U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie made a trip to the West Haven VA Hospital Tuesday, to honor Navy Veteran Euel Sims.
“He was the example of what we all strive to be and that is putting service before self,” said Wilkie.
Wilkie shared details about Sims who served more than 20 years, bringing his skills back to West Haven. Sims, a plumbing expert, was killed in a steam pipe explosion on Friday.
“I mentioned 27 years in the Navy, in the Naval Construction Battalion, the Seabees. He and his wife had children and grandchildren.”
Sims’ death has highlighted the need for new construction at veterans’ buildings like West Haven.
“There are massive improvements coming to West Haven. It is something that I’ve been pushing in the time that I’ve been here, for us to more efficiently and more compassionately serve our veterans,” said Wilkie.
New construction is already approved at an estimated $365 million. Plans for a new multi-floor tower are being drawn up to replace the nearly 70-year-old building.
“You do a design for one year and then you construct a couple years later, so we are moving those projects forward,” said Al Montoya, director of VA Connecticut Healthcare System.
Most federal facilities around the country, including West Haven, run on steam. And even with new construction, Wilkie said it is unlikely to change.
“I tell you as a former naval officer, go to the naval base in Norfolk, it’s all steam.”
The ATF, State Fire Marshal and West Haven Fire Marshal are working to find out how Sims and another man were killed, and three others were injured in that steam pipe explosion.
“It kind of puts you back during Vietnam, you know,” said Sims’ coworker George Pearsell, who is also a veteran. “The person is there, and he’s gone, and he doesn’t come back. You know, so we’re never ready for that.”
NBC Connecticut spoke employees on the day of the explosion. Many sent thoughts and condolences to Sims’ family and shared what they will remember about him.
“He was just a hardworking man, everyone just respected him. It’s hard to believe that he’s not here,” said Pearsell. “He had a sense of humor. We laughed a lot and joked a lot, so these are the memories we’re going to keep.”