Planning for new veterans home under way


LITTLE ROCK — Building a new state veterans home in Arkansas’ capital city appears to be “the feeling at this time” among board members of a task force created to help plan for the facility, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Veterans Affairs said Tuesday.

Lawmakers approved enabling legislation for the new facility during this year’s regular legislative session, as well as $7.5 million in funding. State Rep. John Edwards, D-Little Rock, who has spearheaded the effort to build a new veterans home, said Tuesday the state’s congressional delegation has expressed optimism that $14 million in federal matching funds will be approved.

Edwards said he has discussed the federal funding with U.S. Sens. John Boozman, R-Ark., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, and “all the feedback I’ve received is very positive.”

A 22-member task force created during the recent legislative session to help plan for the new veterans home met for the first time Tuesday in what Kelly Ferguson, public affairs officer for the state Department of Veterans Affairs, said was a “introductory meeting.” The panel has until the end of October to recommend a location and function for the facility.

The task force is to meet at least once a month has until the end of October to develop recommendations. Ferguson said having the facility in the Little Rock area appears to be “the feeling at this time” among the task force members “but that could change also.”

Last summer, the veterans home in Little Rock was closed after failing building and health code inspections. All of the nearly 70 veterans at the facility were relocated other nursing homes or assisted living facilities, Edwards said.

During the recent legislative session, laws were passed to create the task force to help with the planning of the new facility, as well to appropriate $7.5 million from the General Improvement Fund and allow for construction of a new home.

Edwards said the new veterans home will not be housed in a refurbished old building, like the ones that housed the previous Central Arkansas location or that houses the current facility in Fayetteville.

“We’ve always been working with someone else’s hand-me-downs and I want the age of hand-me-downs for our veterans to be over,” he said. “I want our veterans to have places that were built specifically for folks who need care.”

The facility in Fayetteville has 109 beds and is located in the old Washington Regional Medical Center.

The new facility, wherever it is built, will probably have room for up to 150 veterans, Ferguson said.

She said the task force’s next meeting is June 6 at the state Capitol and the panel is considering having one meeting in Fayetteville so members can tour the Fayetteville facility.

“Everyone is invited to hear what’s going on,” Ferguson said.