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VA Medical Center director retiring

Jul. 30, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- When ace pitcher Sandy Koufax retired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1966, he was, by all accounts, still in the prime of his career.

Though 68-year-old Edward Seiler acknowledged he might perhaps be beyond his prime, he related to Koufax when announcing his retirement to the Huntington VA Medical Center staff and employees a few weeks ago. His last day is Friday, Aug. 2.

"Koufax was 30 years old and he'd had a great season. He was in the prime of his career," Seiler said. "Not that I'm in the prime of my career, but I want to retire while I still have my fastball."

Seiler has a long and distinguished career to look back upon, including 45 years of service in 11 medical centers, serving more than 28 of those as medical center director at VA hospitals in Providence, R.I., West Palm Beach, Fla., and his native Huntington. In the past year, he was honored with the Presidential Rank Award, an honor given to top civil servants in the federal government, in Washington, D.C.

"I'd been thinking about (retiring) for a while. I've got people I need to spend time with and things I need to do and want to do," Seiler said. "I feel like now is a pretty good time. I can leave knowing the medical center is in poor good shape with a good staff and volunteers."

Seiler is a graduate of Marshall University, paying his own way through school by hustling in pool halls, he said. He earned a national title in three-cushion billiards and a trophy for a citywide pool tournament as a child. He began his professional career in 1968 at the VA, moving nearly every two years -- from Maryland to Wisconsin, North Carolina, Ohio, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Florida. He married a young woman he met as a college student and together they had a son. Just before his move to West Palm Beach, Fla., they separated, and Seiler's health took a turn for the worse. A few years after assuming the director's role in Florida, Seiler's lost all vision in both eyes.

"I was very nearsighted at birth and my entire life. My eye doctor in Huntington told me I wouldn't be able to do college work because of the extensive amount of reading," said Seiler, 68, who holds two post-graduate degrees from the University of Southern California and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "I had some retinal detachments as a teenager and more retinal problems, glaucoma and macular degeneration in my 40s and 50s. The combination robbed me of all my vision."

Seiler said he made the decision to return to Huntington because he felt he could be comfortable here. He resides in a downtown condo with Terk, a full-blooded Doberman who serves as his eyes.

"I thought it might be nice to finish my VA career where I started it," he said.

Seiler set about establishing some goals for the medical center and has seen many come to fruition: top 10 percent nationally among VA center in clinical, financial and administrative performances measures; founding of the Homeless Veterans' Resource Center in July 2011; opening the Women's Health Clinic in May; sharing best practices will other VA center for reducing homelessness and women's health; securing federal money for new buildings and projects; and being recognized by the Joint Commission of one of the "Top Performing Hospitals" in the United States.

"Another major thing we were able to accomplish was getting the pharmacy school for Marshall out here," Seiler said. "I was able to work with officials in Washington to extend the existing lease so they could move ahead with an $8 million renovation project. That relationship with Marshall is going to benefit the VA tremendously."

Seiler said he'll keep Huntington as his home and hopes to continue some lecturing at Marshall University as well as a few other professional opportunities presented. He wants to learn to play piano and guitar and plans to visit with friends and family spread across the country, including friends in San Francisco, his son in Colorado and his own home away from home in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

He said he'll most miss the relationships he's built and the stories he loves to hear from the veterans the medical center serves.

"When you have those conversations, it really makes you think that everything we've done is all worth it. I've built some satisfying and rewarding relationships here," Seiler said.

Out of those personal stories and relationships, Seiler said, is the key for continued success at the VA.

"Everything we do is for the timely, compassionate care of America's veterans. As long as the staff here continues to understand that and follow that, everything here is going to go very well," he said.

The Huntington VA Medical Center will operate with an acting or interim director while a search is conducted for Seiler's replacement.

Follow H-D reporter Beth Hendricks on Facebook or Twitter @BethHendricksHD.

Edward H. Seiler

AGE: 68

HOMETOWN: Huntington

FAMILY: One son, Ryan, who lives in Colorado

HOBBIES: Hiking, running, reading; learning guitar and piano