Missouri Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe is now aware that an offer for free land to build a new veterans home has been made by the city of Washington and the county.
However, Kehoe told The Missourian he favors vouchers for veterans to stay in facilities in their hometown over the construction of a new brick and mortar facility.
Beginning in early 2016, the city of Washington and Franklin County jointly offered about 30 acres of property to the MVC free of charge for the construction of a possible new veterans home near the Phoenix II development.
Last month, the Missouri Veterans Commission (MVC) solicited bids for a contractor to conduct a veterans need study.
One major portion of that study would be the specific need for a new veterans home within 90 miles of St. Louis.
“Washington is definitely in that circle,” Kehoe said. “We’ll just have to wait and see what the study tells us.”
In the meantime, Kehoe agreed with statements made by then Lt. Gov. Mike Parson that more veterans could be served through a voucher program due to new federal mandates limiting bed space at the seven state facilities.
He added the voucher program would also help the nursing home industry fill beds and bring in revenues to their facilities.
“I think that makes a lot of sense,” Kehoe said. “I think veteran and nursing home issues go hand in hand. We have 490,000 veterans in the state and we have an obligation to them.”
Kehoe said the No. 1 thing he and MVC Director Grace Link are working on is the waiting list for beds in the existing state veterans homes.
The MVC manages 1,350 beds at its seven veterans homes around the state. Currently, there are 761 veterans on a waiting list for veterans home space.
But, the waiting list numbers are misleading and although they are a factor, do not justify the construction of a new facility on their own.
Apparently, there are veterans on the list who have turned down a spot in a home three or four times.
Veterans may sign up for the first available bed at any of the homes, but turn down openings because they want to stay at an MVC facility closer to their homes.
The seven veterans homes in the state are located in Cameron, Cape Girardeau, Mount Vernon, St. James, St. Louis, Mexico and Warrensburg.
Additional beds or facilities would require legislation in the General Assembly to raise the number of veterans allowed in state homes.
It costs about $250 per day to house a vet and the state then gets matching funds from the federal veterans administration.
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 150-bed facility would still come with a price tag of $50 million and have $12 million in annual operating costs.
Also in 2017, the city of Washington estimated construction of a new veterans home in Washington could generate 185 jobs with an average salary of $32,000, which would add $5,968,583 into the local economy annually.