Murkowski proposes veterans' home plan

Posted: Friday, February 06, 2004

JUNEAU Gov. Frank Mur-kowski wants to convert the 82-bed Pioneers' Home in Palmer into the first state-run veterans' facility.

Murkowski offered legislation Thursday to meet federal Veterans Administration requirements for such a change.

Administration officials propose a $3.5 million renovation of the Palmer home. The federal government would pay 65 percent of the cost, with Alaska paying $1.2 million. The state would then be able to receive about $26.95 per diem for veterans staying at the home.

Eligible veterans could elect to live at the Palmer home as space is available, but no elderly resident would be required to move out of the facility, said Health and Social Services Commissioner Joel Gilbertson.

Alaska currently operates six Pioneers' Homes.

The change would allow the state to recoup both veterans benefits and Medicaid payments in the Pioneers Homes, Gilbertson said.

After a seven-year transition period, 62 beds at the Palmer facility would be reserved for veterans and the other 20 beds would be available to all eligible seniors.

The announcement is good news for elderly veterans but it could have a downside, said Bill O'Connor. O'Connor is a former Alaska Pioneers' Homes administrator who served as long-term care ombudsman for the state from 1983-1996. He also serves as American Legion Post 4 commander at the Anchorage Pioneers' Home.

Murkowski's plan will provide needed space to veterans waiting to get into a state facility. But it could represent a hardship for families in other parts of the state who want to remain close to their elderly relative, O'Connor said.

''It's kind of a sweet and sour feeling for me. I would hope they would have something there so families could be kept intact,'' O'Connor said.

''But the bottom line is, it's doing something for the veterans.''

Alaska has about 72,000 veterans but is one of only two states that does not have its own veterans facility, administration officials said.

A 2003 feasibility study by the Legislature said the state needs up to 80 beds in its six Pioneers' Home facilities to adequately accommodate veterans.

The study by the McDowell Group suggested the Palmer conversion as one of three options. Other alternatives included converting Anchorage and Fairbanks facilities each to take veterans or build a 60-bed standalone facility.

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