The window of opportunity for Washington, or any other city in Missouri, to be the site of a new veterans home, seems to be closing a little bit more each day.
The bad news was delivered Thursday during a visit to Washington Chapter 324 of the Korean War Veterans Association meeting by Missouri Veterans Commissioner William Wallace, who also is president of Missouri Veterans Endeavor.
“The priority before any new homes can be considered will be the maintenance of an existing veterans home in Mexico,” Wallace said. “It is a historic site and needs renovations and may need new construction.”
With one strike already against a new home, Wallace delivered a second strike to the gathering of veterans before a new home can even be considered anywhere. Legislation would have to be passed in the General Assembly to raise the number of veterans allowed in state homes from 1,257 to more than 1,400.
“With more veterans separating from the military, there will be more of a need for veterans homes,” Wallace said. “A lot of cities want a veterans home. It would stimulate the local economy and they want to take care of their vets.”
Finally, Wallace spoke about the third strike. The issue of money entered the conversation and the simple answer is there is none available for new construction.
Wallace said 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.
“Washington would be an ideal location for a veterans home,” Wallace said. “But, there is only so much money the state has to give. It costs about $250 per day to house a vet and the state then gets matching funds from the federal veterans administration.”
To remedy the complete lack of funding, Wallace said his Missouri Veterans Endeavor group and others are proposing the idea of soliciting private funding to build much needed facilities for disabled and homeless vets.
“One of the early goals of Gov. (Eric) Greitens is to cut the budget and put more money into infrastructure,” Wallace said. “It’s time to ask the Boeings, Emersons and Monsantos to help these veterans. I’m very happy to get the ball rolling.”
In an effort to alleviate some costs and put Washington first on the list for a new home, the city and Franklin County have agreed to donate a 20- to 25- acre plat of property next to the Phoenix II development to the state of Missouri to build a home on.
The value of the property is estimated between $1.5 and $1.8 million, or $75,000 per acre.
Wallace said former Gov. Jay Nixon was aware of the offer and as recently as Thursday, he had spoken to a Greitens confidant and asked him to brief the new governor on the same information.
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.
With these factors in mind, the Washington veterans group will move forward with its plan by generating as much support as possible from local groups and ask state legislators to carry their torch to Jefferson City.
Discouraged, but not defeated, the Korean vets group, Wallace and the city plan to make contact with Missouri Veterans Commission Executive Director Larry Kay, who has toured the potential site, to keep dialogue open when, or if, any funding may become available.
Kay toured the site last summer while visiting Franklin County and was made aware of the city’s willingness to cooperate in any way possible to get a home located here.