Governor outlines proposed funding plan for new veterans\' home

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JEFFERSON CITY - Gov. Jay Nixon said Monday he wants more veterans off waiting lists and into Missouri Veterans' Homes across the state.

"For every veteran receiving quality medical care and services at one of our veterans' homes, there's a veteran who is on the waiting list because there's not enough space," Nixon said.

There are currently 1,973 veterans waiting to move into one of the seven existing full-time care facilities in Missouri. At the homes, eligible retired and disabled veterans have access to skilled nursing care, a range of therapies and the chance to experience the camaraderie of living among veterans like themselves. The homes also have special wings reserved for veterans suffering from dementia.

In Nixons' speech to the Missouri Association of Veterans Organizations in Jefferson City Monday afternoon, Nixon stressed that renovations to the existing homes and financing the construction of an additional home would be the best way to spend some of the funds obtained from a bond issuance for new construction.

He said long-term projects like these lend themselves to bond financing because of low interest rates and a go-ahead for construction from the legislature. 

"It's kind of like buying a house," he said. "It's sometimes more cost effective to people to do that over a period of time. I think that these bond issues happen not that often and when you get in a situation to do it, I think it's important to line up what your priorities are."

He said, as more Vietnam veterans are retiring, this is the time to move forward with additional veterans housing. 

"We just need to get that waiting list down," he said.

Nixon proposed using funds from issued bonds to complete $14.5 million in repair and renovations to the existing veterans homes. He gave specific examples of some of the work needed.

  • In Cape Girardeau, renovation of nurses' stations, restrooms and resident kitchens.
  • In Mexico, replacing first floor flooring and constructing bariatric showers on the first and third floors
  • In St. James, replacing fire alarm and nurse call stations, renovating the main kitchen and building an addition to the solarium
  • In St. Louis, renovating the entrance and lobby areas
In Columbia, the Commander of VFW Post #280, Don Briggs, said state funding for veterans homes has been a "sore subject" for the VFW over the last few years.
"At one time, Missouri had the best veterans' program in the nation," he said. "Funding has slowly but surely been cut back. We blame a lot of this on the state. There was federal funding available, but somewhere down the line it got transfered to the General Revenue fund."
Briggs said that veterans advocates are constantly having to pester lawmakers for funding to keep the current homes and cemeteries functioning properly. He said an additional home is an absolute must for Missouri veterans.
"All of the homes are full," he said.
Briggs said that the camaraderie experienced by older veterans living together in the homes eases stress because they're able to relate to one and other. 
"You've watched your friends get wounded. You've watched your friends get killed. You darn near got killed yourself," he said. "You're going to be an entirely different person when you come back."
Nixon did not announce where the new facility would be constructed, but spoke firmly about the need for its construction. Nixon estimated it would cost around $45 million to construct a new home.