Veterans Home gets commissioner’s focus
Nov 20, 2013 | 666 views | 0 0 comments | 38 38 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Whether the latest setback facing the planned Cleveland Bradley County State Veterans Home is merely a speed bump, a disabling stumbling block or, in a worst-case scenario a project killer, remains to be seen.

But this we know.

Heads and hearts are now coming together to overcome the shocking pre-Veterans Day disclosure that a donated 28-acre site on Westland Drive has been rejected — at least, for now — by a division of state government called the State of Tennessee Real Estate Asset and Management. STREAM is a component of the Tennessee Department of General Services.

When news of STREAM’s action surfaced — on the Friday before Veterans Day Weekend — rage could be heard communitywide like the resonance of a soldier’s firearm.

Confusion over the state directive fueled bitter emotions from local Veterans Home supporters toward Nashville decision-makers. Their reaction was understandable because somewhere in the pipeline of communication somebody apparently didn’t deliver and somebody reportedly didn’t receive the state’s latest concerns ... until it was almost too late.

STREAM representatives and Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder based their concerns on new federal regulations that have changed the size, style and dimensions of new veterans homes. These mandates suddenly meant the existing parcel of donated property in South Cleveland might fall short of accommodating the needs of the new design.

Other issues also have surfaced such as the slope of the terrain, condition of the soil, accessibility, road improvement costs and general visibility. According to STREAM and the state commissioner, taken individually none of the concerns is a deal breaker. But collectively, they pose a serious threat to keeping the veterans home at the current site.

That’s the bad news of the latest challenge facing Bradley County’s bid for a 108-bed facility that will house local veterans.

But there is good news, and thankfully so.

It surfaced through face-to-face communication. To her credit and to that of STREAM representative Peter Heimbach, the pair attended last Thursday night’s gathering of the Southeast Tennessee Veterans Home Council at the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce.

Recognizing a volatile mood was hovering over Bradley County, Grinder flew in from Memphis — an action that showed her commitment not to forsake the veterans of this community and those who have worked so hard for 10 long years to bring this project to fruition.

Much work remains to undo the damage of the STREAM rejection, but we feel a high level of reassurance in Grinder’s words to the gathering of 50 veterans, local government leaders and members of the local Veterans Council.

The commissioner, a veteran of Afghanistan whose own daughter-in-law Billie Jean Grinder died as a combat pilot in Iraq in February 2010, told the local crowd, “This property, and this assessment of it, has been devastating to all of us, and I include myself because I want that home in Cleveland and Bradley County just as much as you do.”

She stressed these issues do not mean project abandonment.

“We are not going to lose momentum,” Grinder, a 35-year military veteran, pointed out. “We are not going to let you down.”

The state Veterans Affairs commissioner has a widely respected track record for truthfulness and a staunch desire for doing the right thing, especially when serving the needs of combat veterans. She even accepted responsibility for the pre-Veterans Day timing of the rejection announcement. Upon learning of the STREAM verdict, she felt it was unfair to Bradley County and to local veterans leaders to wait until after the weekend of commemorations to learn of the decision.

We will take this dedicated state commissioner at her word because her actions of the past since joining Gov. Bill Haslam’s cabinet — and even before — have earned her our respect.

Bradley County has no reason to doubt Grinder’s sincerity — not the local Veterans Affairs Office, not the Southeast Tennessee Veterans Home Council, not the families of veterans, not our veterans themselves and certainly not our residents.

Last week’s meeting of state minds and Cleveland hearts hopefully is the steppingstone to a solution.

But in its wake must come diligent review with a focus on answers, not doubts.

Now is the time for all ideas to be placed on the table.

Now is the time for all who believe in this project to step forward and resolve the issues — from expanding the size of the current site to satisfying demands of accessible terrain to assuring that the feelings of property and money donors are kept on the front burner.

And most importantly, now is the time to communicate — openly, timely and genuinely.

It isn’t a matter of hoping. It is an urgency in doing.

We thank Commissioner Grinder for her commitment. We applaud her hands-on visit to our community.

Faith will sustain our journey. Cooperation will carry us through.