Saturday, November 23, 2002

Veterans wait for state's second home

Georgetown site is to open in July

By James Hannah
The Associated Press

GEORGETOWN - A veterans home being built in the hills of Southwest Ohio will house 168 people once it opens next summer and already has a waiting list of 100.

The Southern Ohio Veterans Home is only the second such home in more than a century to be built in the state to accommodate a veterans population of 1.2 million and growing.

States nationwide have found themselves planning homes to serve aging veterans of World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, said Frank Salvas, chief of the state home construction grant program for the Veterans Administration.

The United States has 26.5 million veterans, 10 million of which are age 65 and older.

"Our World War II veterans are aging and falling ill at an alarming rate. The demand for long-term care is soaring," said Ken Fulmer, president of the Washington-based Armed Forces Veterans Homes Foundation.

The first veterans homes were built following the Civil War. There are now 116 state veterans homes recognized by the VA, up from 33 in 1991.

Construction also is under way on 10 new homes or additions in Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Maine, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, Mr. Salvas said, adding there are plans for 18 more homes and additions.

"The fact that they're building veterans homes shows that the need is growing," said Bruce Parry, secretary of Veterans for Unification, a Chicago-based advocacy group that works to improve health-care benefits for veterans. "A lot of people are ending up on the street."

For Ralph Fox, a 63-year-old Vietnam veteran, the new $16 million home in Ohio will be a haven for aging veterans who consider the 114-year-old Ohio Veterans' Home in Sandusky, along Lake Erie, too far from family.

"This is where we're going when the time comes," Mr. Fox said, looking at the two-story, 99,000-square-foot brick building in Brown County that will have a dining and activities room, physical therapy room, chapel, courtyard and picnic area.

Construction began in September 2000, and the home is scheduled to open in July. Veterans are hoping the Legislature will eventually fund homes in Chillicothe and Marietta, both in southern Ohio.

To get a veterans home, states must donate the land and 35 percent of the construction costs. In return, the federal government pays the rest of the cost of construction and provides $53 a day for the care of each resident.

The state of Washington opened its third veterans home last year and is replacing an aging portion of a home built in the 1970s. There are 649,000 veterans in that state, up about 7,000 from 10 years ago.

West Virginia plans to break ground on a $24 million veterans home in the spring. The state, in which veterans comprise 10 percent of the population, has only a domiciliary, a place veterans can stay for a short time.

Tennessee has two veterans homes, in Murfreesboro and Humboldt, in central and western portions of the state.

For the past six years, the United Veterans of East Tennessee and its commander, Gerald Clark, have been lobbying for a home in eastern Tennessee. He hopes that will happen after a new administration takes office in January.

"We're isolated here from our VA hospitals," said Mr. Clark, 77, a World War II veteran who lost his right leg in the Battle of the Bulge.

About 280,000 of Ohio's veterans live within a 50-mile radius of the Southern Ohio Veterans Home, which is being built on a 35-acre lot surrounded by woods.

Mr. Fox, an Army infantry radioman who served in Vietnam from 1965 to 1966, said the home's beds are already spoken for, even though it is not complete.

"We get calls every day," he said.

To be considered for admission, applicants must be honorably discharged military veterans, have lived in Ohio for at least five years and have disabilities that prevent them from being employed.

Mr. Fox said such homes are attractive to veterans because they are less expensive than conventional nursing homes and are filled with veterans.

"They want to go where there are other veterans. I think it's camaraderie," Mr. Fox said. "As a general rule, a veteran goes to a nursing home and he may be the only veteran there. He has to go around talking to little old ladies and playing bingo and things like that, and it has nothing to do with being in the military."

The wait can be up to a year to get into the Ohio Veterans Home in Sandusky.

"There is such a need," spokesman Gary Chetwood said. "It breaks my heart to tell people there's a waiting list."

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