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Wyoming lawmakers to consider veterans retirement home

Wyoming Tribune-Eagle - 1/10/2018

Jan. 10--CHEYENNE -- Wyoming lawmakers are expected to consider a bill during the upcoming session to build a retirement center for veterans and Gold Star spouses.

The Wyoming Legislature's Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee is sponsoring a bill that would provide a $5 million loan from the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account -- commonly called the "rainy-day fund" -- to pay for a facility in a yet-to-be determined location.

In addition to honorably discharged veterans, active-duty service members and spouses, the proposed facility would be open to Gold Star non-veterans as well. That includes spouses, qualifying dependents or parents of military personnel who died in service or as a result of service. Veterans and their spouses would be given preference for admission, however. The federal Department of Veterans Affairs requires 75 percent of the population be veterans.

The VA would pay for 65 percent of the construction costs for a veterans skilled nursing facility, as well as a stipend for any veteran occupying it. Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Luke Reiner, Wyoming Military Depart-ment director, told lawmakers Tuesday in Cheyenne that the federal government stipend would eventually pay back the loan.

The bill calls for a veterans skilled nursing facility to be built in a "Green House Project" look-alike community living concept. That's because the VA is calling on states to move away from cold, institutional-style settings, Wyoming Veterans Commission Director Steve Kravitsky told lawmakers.

Kravitsky said Wyoming is currently the only state without such a facility. With around 50,000 veterans living in Wyoming, it is something the state needs to address, Reiner said.

"We very much think we should have one," he said.

"It's a benefit veterans have earned."

Members of the Wyoming Legislature'sJoint Appropriations Committee showed considerable interest in where the proposed facility would be located if the bill passes. Sheridan, Buffalo, Casper and Lander were all floated during its meeting Tuesday. But Reiner said the level I and II studies authorized in the legislation would need to be completed before that question could be answered.

Sheridan is a strong contender for the facility, as it has a VA hospital and a local retirement home already using the Green House model.

The number of beds in the facility would be determined directly in relation to the proportion of veterans in the state. Studies would determine that, as well as what types of services are needed, Reiner said.

"Are (the beds) for those who might be violent, or are they for those who need special psychological care, or do we need them for gentlemen and women who don't require special care?" he said.

"We'll work in partnership with the (Wyoming) Department of Health in terms of specifically what the needs are for veterans across the state. It's important to take a step back and define the population we're looking for and the number of beds needed, then move forward."

The Wyoming Department of Health would be authorized to contract with an organization for day-to-day operations and administrative management. Federal requirements call for one state employee to work at the facility. The legislation would appoint one Department of Health employee to oversee federal and state requirements applicable to the skilled nursing center.


(c)2018 Wyoming Tribune-Eagle (Cheyenne, Wyo.)

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