Pioneers housing cheapest for vets

Posted: Thursday, July 10, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) A report commissioned by the Legislature finds that the most economical means of housing Alaska's elderly veterans would be in the state Pioneers' and Veterans' Homes.

Renovating the existing pioneers home in Palmer to meet federal veterans housing standards would cost $1.4 million. Upgrading the homes in Fairbanks and Anchorage would cost $5.3 million. A third alternative, building a 60-bed, stand-alone vets' home in Anchorage would cost $9.4 million.

The state is facing a general fund budget shortfall of about $400 million this year. State Budget Director Cheryl Frasca said costs do not rule out a stand-alone home.

''The numbers won't drive a decision. It won't disqualify it. But it doesn't help,'' Frasca said.

State political leaders have been debating how to house Alaska's elderly veterans for years. Alaska has more than 70,000 veterans, the second-highest number per capita in the nation. Only Alaska and Hawaii do not have a dedicated home for veterans.

Last year, Gov. Tony Knowles pushed a proposal to house veterans in the pioneers homes, which were renamed the Pioneers' and Veterans' Homes.

The Republican-controlled Legislature did not approve the $2.6 million needed to fund the program. Instead, the Legislature authorized the $250,000 study.

It was done by the McDowell Group, a consulting company, and was presented to the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee at a hearing Wednesday in Anchorage.

Renovating the Palmer, Anchorage and Fairbanks homes for veterans could mean fewer beds statewide for nonveteran seniors, a consequence that troubled Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage. There are 248 nonveteran seniors on a waiting list for the pioneers homes now, according to the state.

''There is the potential of turning one group of seniors against another group of seniors and I don't want that to happen,'' Gara said.

Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, suggested that veterans have a high priority.

''We've got to remember we're here because of veterans who fought, died and were wounded for us,'' he said.

During his campaign for governor last year, Gov. Frank Murkowski said he wants to put veterans in the pioneers homes. He wants the federal government to pay $16 million to renovate and expand the homes, not the state.

Consultant Donna Logan said she did not believe that the federal government would pay the entire cost of upgrades to the pioneers homes.



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