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Regulations could give planned veterans home a boost

Sun - 10/22/2017

Regulations under consideration by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs would give rural areas, including Yuma County, a better shot at being awarded VA grants for the construction of state veterans homes.

For almost three years, Yuma has had $9.2 million in state funding and 8 acres of land set aside for a state veterans home, but at this point there's still little indication of when the planned 60-bed facility might become a reality, as it's still waiting for a 65 percent federal matching grant, approximately $17 million.

The project is currently No. 44 on the VA's priority list for building new and improving existing veterans homes across the country, which provide nursing home, assisted living and adult day care to military veterans, and in some states their family members. No. 43 is a new facility for Flagstaff, which didn't get its $10 million in state funding appropriated until last fiscal year.

Arizona Department of Veterans Services spokeswoman Nicole Baker said 44th place isn't all that bad, since in general the top 10 to 15 projects are funded, depending on the amount of money made available by Congress. "Every year those 10 or 15 get built, and after that everything else gets shuffled around, so a lot can happen," she said.

The updated list is released in December or January, she said.

VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin said in an August press release that new regulations on the prioritizing of rural state veterans homes are under review at the agency, since the current rules' focus on veteran demographics put less densely populated areas. In some cases the nearest veterans home is 500 miles away, hampering relatives' ability to come visit veterans who are being cared for at a home.

The VA expects the new regulations will be completed by the end of this year, then made available for public comment, which means they probably won't be in effect by the time the next veterans home priority list.

State Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, was instrumental in getting funding for the Yuma home into the state budget, and said this week he was aware at the time that the federal support might not be coming quickly, given the pace at which that level of government operates. But he is dismayed that Flagstaff has jumped ahead on the priority list.

"That's not right. I'm going to have to talk to people about that," he said, referring to Arizona's congressional delegations and their offices' staffs.

Yuma City Administrator Greg Wilkinson said the city deeded eight acres at the southeast corner of Avenue 6E and the 34th Street alignment to the state Department of Veterans Services for the facility, which under the most recent design would have three long-term care units with 15 beds each and one 15-bed secure dementia-care unit.

But the agreement includes a clause in which the city would get the land back if the home wasn't built in three years, which would take effect sometime around the end of this year.

He said he's been told the federal VA has been working on some budget issues, "and because of that we are patiently waiting on federal funding. But we can't wait forever."

Arizona has two existing veterans homes, in Phoenix with 200 beds and Tucson with 120 beds. This leaves the state with a deficit of about 1,200 beds to meet the needs of its nearly 600,000 veterans, she said.

Forty-nine percent of Arizona veterans are over age 65 and more likely to need the option of a state veterans home, "but it's not just about seniors, sometimes it's that 30-year-old that needs it," she added.

Once built, the veterans homes are funded by the federal government and managed by the state government.

Yuma Sun staff writer Blake Herzog can be reached at (928) 539-6856 or bherzog@yumasun.com.

 
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