Armed with glossy promotions and numbers-laden PowerPoint presentations, three Minnesota communities are competing for a new state veterans home.
Montevideo and Bemidji have teamed to propose two 70-bed facilities to serve veterans in west-central and northwestern Minnesota. Meanwhile, Fillmore County has a separate proposal for a 100-bed facility in southeast Minnesota.
The proposals are contained in separate bills making their way through the Legislature.
Veterans homes provide nursing home-type care for honorably discharged veterans and their spouses. The state now operates veterans homes in Fergus Falls, Hastings, Luverne, Silver Bay and Minneapolis. Supporters say the new homes are needed to address underserved veterans elsewhere in the state.
"Keeping the veteran close to home is a great gift," Fillmore County Veterans Services Officer Jason Marquardt recently told a legislative committee.
Despite a waiting list of roughly 1,500 people, Minnesota is limited in approving any future veterans home because the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides per diem for only a limited number of licensed beds, based on a state's demographics and veteran population. The state has been assigned 1,058 beds, leaving only 144 beds unallocated.
Competition for a new home has been intense. Not only is it a way to honor those who have served, supporters believe its also good for the economy. Fillmore County, for instance, estimates a new home would add 180 new health care jobs. Montevideo has estimated that its facility would bring in about $11.6 million annually.
Montevideo has tried for 10 years to get approval for a 70-bed veterans home. It has purchased 13.5 acres of former farmland on the southeast corner of the city limits, committed more than $5 million to the project and has completed an exhaustive project pre-design that features four neighborhood "clusters" and geothermal heating and wind turbine-generated power. It is asking for $6 million from the state for construction.
The Bemidji facility, with a proposed construction cost of $10 million, would be on 15 acres of land donated by the Sanford Health campus. Beltrami County Commissioner Jim Lucachick, an architect, has prepared preliminary designs pro bono on the potential facility.
Fillmore County seeks $10 million for constructing a home on land the county will donate. It promotes itself as a 35-minute drive to both the VA Medical Center clinic in Rochester and the Mayo Clinic.
Even with the sales tactics and the passions of their local supporters, the future of any new veterans home is uncertain.
The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, which would operate any new facility, has not taken a position on the proposals. It has cautioned that lawmakers considering funding a new home also be mindful of the continuing operating costs and repairs needed for its current homes, many of which have services and buildings reaching the limits of their expected life span.
Gov. Mark Dayton's bonding bill does not include any of the proposals, but asks for $7.85 million to repair the Minneapolis Veterans Home campus truss bridge and about $5 million in repairs to existing veterans homes.
Undeterred, local authorities have become creative in making their pitches. One supporter recently argued that its home's proximity to a new 167-acre state veterans cemetery in Preston makes Fillmore County an attractive candidate.
"It's a wonderful place to have an end-of-life experience," she told legislators.