We applaud the speed with which some legislative action is becoming reality.
We are referencing the Tuesday meeting of a 22-member task force the state Legislature established to help plan for a new Arkansas veterans home. A new home will replace one that closed in Little Rock after failing building and health code inspections.
The task force is to meet at least monthly until the end of October to develop recommendations.
When the Little Rock facility closed last year, it left Arkansas veterans with but one home in the state, in Fayetteville. All of the nearly 70 veterans at the Little Rock facility were relocated to other nursing homes or assisted-living facilities, according to the state Department of Veterans Affairs. The new facility likely will have about 150 beds, a VA official said Tuesday.
Although that would more than double the number of beds in the state — the Fayetteville home has 108 beds — we wonder if that is big enough. As of September 2011, the veteran population in Arkansas totaled 251,000, according to the VA.
State Rep. John Edwards, D-Little Rock, who has spearheaded the effort to build a new veterans home, said Tuesday that the feedback he’s received from the state’s congressional delegation regarding federal matching funds “is very positive.”
In February, U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, issued a statement commending state House action. “State veterans homes play a critical role, and I will assist any way I can to make a new veterans home a reality,” Griffin stated.
Along with creation of the task force, state legislators approved appropriating $7.5 million from the General Improvement Fund to allow for construction of a new home. Officials said $14 million in federal matching funds could be approved.
Rep. Edwards said Tuesday the new veterans home will not be housed in a refurbished old building, like the previous central Arkansas location or the one 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 2013 Arkansas legislative session isn’t even formally adjourned — lawmakers are scheduled to officially adjourn next week — and yet work to establish a new state veterans home is underway. It can’t happen quickly enough.
— Southwest Times Record