BOISE – Idaho is moving ahead with plans for a fourth veterans home, in North Idaho, but it likely will be seven to 10 years before it gets the funding approval from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“The current population right now of veterans in North Idaho is worthy of supporting a veterans home,” said Idaho Division of Veterans Services Director Col. David Brasuell, who presented his budget pitch to state lawmakers Friday morning.
The state already has been offered 6.1 acres of donated land by the Jacklin family, Brasuell said, though that’s the “bare minimum” needed for a veterans home; he’d like to acquire some additional ground. Total construction cost, not counting land, is estimated at $32 million. The VA will pay 65 percent, with the state providing the rest.
With its three existing veterans homes in Boise, Lewiston and Pocatello, Idaho now has beds for 76 percent of the VA-allotted slots for veterans in the state.
The reason it could take a decade for Idaho to get the federal money for the home is because other states are far behind. Florida and Texas, which both got funding for new veterans homes this year, have only 30 percent of the beds they need. “They’ve got more veterans than we’ve got population,” Brasuell said.
Idaho has been proactive, he said, and has had three veterans homes for more than 20 years. Back when those homes were built, Lewiston and Pocatello had the biggest veteran populations outside the Boise area. But since then, growth in North Idaho has increased its veteran population.
“As we know, North Idaho in the last 20 years has been a magnet for retirees, for people moving to the state. It’s a beautiful place,” Brasuell said. “Now we’re seeing there are more veterans in a 75-mile radius” of Post Falls than in Pocatello or Lewiston. Within that radius, he said, an estimated 23,000 to 24,000 veterans live.
The property proposed for the new veterans home, near Interstate 90 and just east of Buck Knives, is vacant, Brasuell said, as are two additional parcels to the north that could possibly be added. The property has utilities, so it is ready for construction.
Idaho’s Veterans Services Division also is preparing to apply for federal funding for a state veterans cemetery in eastern Idaho. Currently, the only state veterans cemetery is in Boise. Staffers have visited 30 potential sites.
“The eastern Idaho veterans deserve an appropriate, dignified site to put a veterans cemetery,” Brasuell said. “We want to make sure it’s the right spot.”
Overall, the division is due for just a 2.3 percent increase in funding next year under Gov. Butch Otter’s proposed budget. Only about $1 million of that $33 million total would come from state general funds; the rest of the division’s funding comes from either federal funds, a state endowment or receipts, including from Medicaid and private-pay clients who live in the veterans homes. The budget includes spending $200,000 in federal funds next year for a contractor to oversee plans for the fourth veterans home and the second cemetery.