By Monte Miller
Missourian Staff Writer
Although the chances of a new veterans home being built in Washington are growing darker, the chances of local vets receiving care in their hometown may be getting brighter.
During a meeting Thursday with members of the Missouri Press Association and Associated Press at the state Capitol Lt. Gov. Mike Parson said he will push to allow veterans to use their VA benefits at private nursing and care centers throughout the state.
Parson said he and Gov. Eric Greitens have met on the issue and he was asked to take over more of the responsibilities on veterans and senior issues.
“Every time I have asked for a meeting, we’ve had one,” Parson said. “Being in the second seat I want to make him the best governor I can.”
Parson said the main question he is asking regarding veterans care is how to keep a veteran home.
In recent months, the city of Washington and Franklin County have offered to donate a tract of land to the state as a site for a new veterans home.
The 20- to 25-acre property is estimated to be valued between $1.5 and $1.8 million, or $75,000 per acre.
But even that gesture may not be enough to lure the state into spending more than $50 million on a new home, and Parson says it still would not be enough to serve all of the veterans needing assisted care.
“We have a lot of people willing to donate land,” Parson said. “There are currently 2,200 vets on the waiting list to get into a home. If you build a 200-bed facility, you’re only serving a small portion.”
Parson said he also believes vets should have their choice where they receive care and not be handcuffed with where they can go to the doctor or receive long-term assistance.
“It’s more expedient to look outside the box,” Parson said.
“There also needs to be more local clinics, so vets don’t have to travel all the way to hospitals and facilities in bigger towns. We need to keep these men and women at home near their families.”
Parson gave no time line on when or how exactly he plans to initiate what would most likely be a voucher-type program for veterans to use at private facilities.
He did say he is working with the governor on a couple of executive orders, but did not give any hints to their contents.
Gov. Greitens himself has championed post military veterans care and started his own charity, The Mission Continues, to assist those injured while in combat.
According to the Missouri Veterans Commission, the construction of a 200-bed facility would cost upward of $63 million and cost about $15.5 million to operate annually.
A scaled-back design consisting of only 150 beds, would still come with a price tag of $50 million and have $12 million in annual operating costs.
If a 150-bed veterans home was built here, it could generate 185 jobs with an average salary of $32,000, which would add $5,968,583 into the local economy annually.
Adversely, the addition of an additional nursing care facility could also increase the call volume of Washington EMS by about 150 calls per year.
Another strike against the construction of a new home in Washington comes from the state itself, which has said before any new homes are built, the Mexico facility needs to be upgraded or a new home built there.
As Parson said, there are currently, 2,200 veterans on the waiting list for a bed in a state home.
There are seven veterans homes in the state located in Cameron, Cape Girardeau, Mount Vernon, St. James, St. Louis, Mexico and Warrensburg.
The number of veterans who can be served in those homes is limited to 1,257. To add additional veterans or facilities would require legislation in the General Assembly to raise the number of veterans allowed in state homes.