Knowles proposes veterans' preference, budget increase for pioneers' homes

Posted: Thursday, December 07, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- Gov. Tony Knowles marked the anniversary of Pearl Harbor by proposing a veterans' preference for admission to the state's pioneers' homes and calling for a $2.4 million budget increase for the facilities.

The money would go to increase the number of workers at the assisted-living, nursing and boarding facilities for the elderly, which would be known as pioneer and veterans' homes if the Legislature approves Knowles proposal.

''With passage of this legislation, we will instantaneously have, in effect, six regional veterans' homes throughout the state,'' Knowles said. ''Veterans will have the choice to stay closer to family and community.''

There are about 600 residents in pioneers' homes now. The extra money is intended to fill 100 beds that are now vacant due to understaffing,

About 2,500 people are on the waiting list to get into pioneers' homes, including about 800 veterans, said Bob King, Knowles' press secretary.

Under the veterans' preference, a minimum of 125 beds would be set aside for Alaska veterans over 65 years old, said King, who couldn't provide the number of veterans already in pioneers' homes.

Knowles, who served in the Army in Vietnam, said Alaska is the only state without a residential facility specifically for veterans.

Knowles also asked the Legislature to approve $200,000 for a survey of the housing and health care needs of Alaska veterans.

The governor also said he plans to ask the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to consider forming Veterans Administration clinics at the state homes.

Alaska has the second highest per capita number of veterans in the nation, said Maj. Gen. Phil Oates, the state commissioner of military and veterans affairs.

The request for more money is the fourth budget increase proposed by the Knowles administration this week, for a total hike of more than $85 million from the state's general fund. Education Commissioner Rick Cross is scheduled to make a budget proposal for his department on Friday, and Knowles is expected to make further proposals public safety in the next few days, pushing the total increase to more than $100 million.

The administration's full proposed budget must be released by Dec. 15.

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