VA officials plan Alaska tour

Posted: Tuesday, August 05, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs staff will tour Pioneers' and Veterans' Homes this month to determine what must be changed to allow federal reimbursement to the state for military veterans' care.

At a press conference Monday, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, also said VA officials also will tour the Palmer Pioneers' and Veterans' Home to determine whether it could be converted to the state's first facility devoted only to veterans.

Murkowski's father, Gov. Frank Murkowski, said last week the Palmer home is the best choice to become Alaska's first real veterans home.

He said the state would face ''very significant'' costs if it were to build, operate and maintain a new, stand-alone veterans home.

Lisa Murkowski did not directly embrace the proposal to convert the Palmer home but said the federal government should offset some of the $1.5 million cost of care for 90 veterans in state-funded senior citizen facilities.

''I am ready to back whatever is going to work,'' Murkowski said.

Murkowski said she has been meeting with VA Secretary Tony Principi and his senior staff.

Alaska is one of two states without a designated veterans home. Hawaii is the other.

''For far too long, we have been finding ways to say no on a veterans home rather than finding ways to say yes,'' she said.

The cost of renovating the Palmer home to VA standards is s estimated at $3 million. Construction of a new 60-bed veterans home would cost $9.4 million, according to a legislative report. Federal funds have paid for 60 percent of construction costs in other states, Murkowski said.

One criteria for a veterans home is that it be on one level. The Palmer home is the only pioneers home set up that way.

''Automatically, that takes out of the running some of the other facilities across the state,'' Murkowski said.

She said there may be alternative solutions for getting federal funding for veterans, such as devoting one wing of a pioneers home to them.

''We've been told no before by the administration,'' she said. ''But apparently there may be an opportunity to follow that through and see if we can't get some funding for veterans who are already in the homes.'' she said.

Murkowski said she did not know how many of the 70,000 veterans in Alaska, the state with the highest per capital veteran population, desire to live in a veterans home.

Converting the Palmer home to a veterans home already has brought objection from Matanuska-Susitna legislators, who say area non-veterans who would might like to enter the home someday might have to move elsewhere.

''That's the big bugaboo, isn't it,'' Murkowski said.

''As I understand it, the Palmer facility is the most highly sought after pioneer home among the six in the system. People like being centrally located in the state.''

She said any changes will be made carefully.

''You don't want the seniors who are there, that have waited to get in the Palmer facility, to feel as if the rug has been pulled out from underneath them in terms of where they have chosen to stay within the pioneer system.''

She said no option has been eliminated, including a new facility. That's one of the reasons she wants Principi and VA officials to visit.

''These guys need to come here and take a look at see how that can help,'' she said.

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