Veterans groups back Palmer home

Posted: Thursday, July 31, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) The push to locate the state's first full-fledged veterans home in Palmer is winning the support of the leaders of major Alaska veterans groups.

Gov. Frank Murkowski this week said he was considering making the state Palmer Pioneers' and Veterans' Home into a real veterans home. Veterans would get a priority for bed space at the Palmer home for the elderly as it becomes available.

That could eventually mean space for about 78 elderly vets.

The veterans home idea has been debated for years and the Palmer plan has raised questions.

Some veterans say there should instead be a home in Anchorage, the state's population center, or regional homes throughout the state.

Some legislators and others say converting the Palmer home could rob non-veteran seniors in the area of the opportunity to stay there for their own care.

Dean Hill of Anchorage, state adjutant for the American Legion, said he and leaders of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Disabled American Veterans of Alaska have decided to back the Palmer proposal.

''There is no compatible single home that is going to suit everybody,'' Hill said. ''But we feel this is the best shot at getting a home to begin with.''

Michael Higdon of North Pole, the state commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said he supports the Palmer option but needs to talk with the group's other officers about it. The state commander of the Disabled American Veterans of Alaska could not be reached by the Anchorage Daily News on Wednesday.

Alaska is one of two states without a designated veterans home, and having one would let the state collect federal dollars for the care of vets.

Vietnam veteran Chuck Brobst of Anchorage said the idea of putting veterans into just the Palmer pioneers home is a ''whitewash job,'' to allow the state to use federal funds to support the pioneers homes.

''It's basically going to be a subsidy for the pioneers home, and veterans are going to get the shaft again,'' he said. He said Alaska should have veterans homes in different parts of the state.

But Ted Taylor of Anchorage, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 904, said the Palmer pioneers home plan is at least worth looking into.

''The more options we have, the better it is for the veterans community,'' he said.

Turning the Palmer pioneers home into a veterans home would be less expensive than building a new home or making veterans wings in the Anchorage and Fairbanks pioneers homes.

''The (state) budget is tight,'' said Hill, of the American Legion. ''We have to be realistic.''

Cost estimates for remodeling the Palmer home to meet federal veterans housing standards have run from $1.4 million to $3 million. The state hopes the federal government will pay 65 percent of the cost.

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