As has been previously reported, a local anonymous donor has pledged $3 million to the project and the Williams family has donated more than 25 acres of land on which the home can be built.
In March 2010, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs moved Bradley County’s proposal from No. 123 in Priority Group 6 to No. 51 in Priority Group 1. This was a significant jump on the priority list and raised hopes that the veterans home would be built.
Unfortunately, the priority ratings don’t always remain the same from year to year as applications must compete annually for grant money. The competition is very tough and the amount of grant money is limited. Recently, we were notified that Bradley County’s application had dropped seven slots to No. 58 in Priority Group 1.
This is very disappointing news and prompted Tennessee U.S. Sen. Bob Corker to look into the matter. On March 30, 2012, Corker sent a letter of Congressional Inquiry to the Department of Veterans Affairs asking for an explanation of the 2012 priority list.
Specifically, the senator asked why the population-to-veterans ratio was brought more into play so suddenly, and why the state of Virginia is getting so many additional beds at one time. In response, the VA said, “The department determines the feasibility of all projects on a case-by-case basis without comparison to other state programs. U.S. Census information is used to determine the number of authorized beds.”
The senator also asked why Salem, Ore., jumped ahead of Bradley County on the new 2012 list, moving from No. 93 in Priority Group 7 in 2011. The VA explained that, “The Oregon project moved into Priority Group 1 from Priority Group 7 because Oregon submitted documentation of state matching funds. This action, coupled with the Oregon application date (4/14/2008) compared to the Bradley County project date (8/15/2008), placed their project higher on the priority list. It is a complicated process and is very dependent on state actions. The application from Montgomery County, Tenn., is ranked slightly ahead (No. 55) of Bradley County for the same reasons. If Tennessee were to provide state matching funds for the Montgomery project, it would likely be ranked above all other states because of the application date (8/13/2004).”
The lower ranking for the Bradley County veterans home application is a disappointment. However, I am glad that we are still listed in Priority Group 1. Hopefully, this is a temporary setback and one that will be overcome as our Bradley County Veterans Affairs Office continues to work with state and federal VA officials on this issue.
The nation’s health care system for veterans is being pushed to the limit and the need for veteran long-term care is growing. This is a concern, as more than 45,000 veterans live within a 50-mile radius of Bradley County. Of that number, 16,394 are between the ages of 65 to 84. That is expected to increase by almost 10 percent in five years. Also, a significant number of young soldiers in their 20s are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with both physical and mental wounds that will require medical care for the rest of their lives. These numbers make it clear that we need a veterans home in Bradley County.
I want to commend the director of the Bradley County Veterans Affairs Office, Larry McDaris, and his staff for their efforts to make the veterans home a reality for our community. He feels, as I do, that the American soldier is responsible for the liberties we enjoy. The price of our freedom was paid in blood and sacrifice. To provide a veterans long-term care facility in our community would be an honor.
For more information about the proposed veterans home in Bradley County, contact Larry McDaris at the Bradley County Veterans Affairs Office in the Courthouse. He can be reached at 423-728-7149. You can also visit www.bradleyco.net and click on the “Veterans” link.