Memorial Day

The St. Clair American Legion hosted a Memorial Day ceremony Monday, May 28. Community members and veterans listened to keynote speaker Jamie Keen, comments from Legion Cmdr. Fred Arflack and music by Andrew Jackson and Tim Sexton. Attendees laid poppies on the Legion’s memorials.

After a definitive “No” two years ago, the Missouri Veterans Commission (MVC) is again studying the needs for future nursing care for Missouri veterans, including the possible construction of a new veterans home somewhere in the state.

According to bidding documents, the MVC is seeking a contractor to conduct a Veterans Needs Feasibility Study to determine if the seven existing homes will be able to meet the needs of Missouri veterans in the next 10 to 30 years.

If a new home is needed, the study must lay out a location where the largest number of veterans can be reached and the contractor is tasked with proposing sites within 90 miles of the existing home in Bellefontaine Neighbors.

Currently, the MVC manages 1,350 beds at the veterans’ homes, and there are 761 veterans on a waiting list for veterans’ home space.

In December, $13 million in renovations were completed to the home in north St. Louis as part of $35 million in veteran home construction projects that will also include the St. James and Cape Girardeau facilities. 

The projects are 65 percent federally funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs with the remaining 35 percent funded by the state. 

Free Land

A prime location, the MVC is aware of is in Washington and the land was previously being offered to the state at no cost.

According to a spokesman, MVC Executive Director Grace Link has been informed of the standing offer.  

As far back as 2016, the city of Washington and Franklin County had agreed to donate a 29.6-acre plat of property next to the Phoenix II development to the state of Missouri to build a home.

In September 2015, the value of the property was appraised at $2.2 million or $75,000 per acre. 

The Franklin County Commission agreed to donate the county’s 60 percent portion, or 18.2 acres and the city would put in its remaining 40 percent share of the acreage at the site.

Franklin County Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker says there has been no new discussion about a veterans home in Washington in almost two years when both budget constraints and bed limitations closed the window of possibility.

“Money was the whole thing holding us back,” Brinker said. “The offer is open and it still exists. We’ve marketed the property since then, but haven’t had any takers. Maybe communications can now be reopened.”

Brinker added he plans to send a memo to the MVC to update new staff members on the city/county land donation prospects in hopes of Washington getting another look.

Washington City Administrator Darren Lamb said he needs to seek council approval before he could definitively say the city would still agree to donate its portion of the property.

“My guess would be yes, but it will have to go back before the city council,” Lamb said. “I’m not aware of any other offers we have had on the property and we’ve allowed the county to take the lead since we have no pressing need to market it.”

Lamb added he is still in favor of the prospects of a veterans home being constructed in Washington and would take any necessary steps needed in the future.

“We would definitely be interested although I think the value of the property might be less now,” he said. “We would put just as much emphasis on it as we did four or five years ago when it was first presented.”  

2016 Plan

In March of 2016, Lamb and members of Washington Chapter 324 of the Korean War Veterans Association presented preliminary drawings to the county commissioners showing the approximate footprint of a facility on the Phoenix II site using the current 150-bed veterans home in St. James as a model.

Lamb explained, if built, the home could generate 185 jobs with an average salary of $32,000, which would add $5,968,583 into the local economy annually. In February of 2017, the construction of a 200-bed facility was estimated by the MVC to 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.

Adversely, the addition of an additional nursing care facility also could increase the call volume of Washington EMS by about 150 calls per year.

It costs about $250 per day to house a vet and the state then gets matching funds from the federal veterans administration.

Also at that time former MVC Executive Director Larry Kay toured the potential site. 

Governors

Former Gov. Jay Nixon was aware of the city/county offer and former Gov. Eric Greitens was to have been briefed on the offer when he took office, but no communication was documented.

In March 2017, then Lt. Gov. Mike Parson told The Missourian he would be pushing less for a new veterans home, but instead for more vouchers for veterans to use to stay in nursing care facilities in their hometowns.

Even the gesture of free land was not enough to lure the state into spending more than $50 million on a new home, and Parson said it still would not be enough to serve all of the 2,200 veterans needing assisted care at that time.

“We have a lot of people willing to donate land,” Parson said. “Even if you build a 200-bed facility, you’re only serving a small portion.”

Parson added 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 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.