By BRIAN GRAVES and RICK NORTON
The letter the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs secretary will receive in a few days urging the approval of federal funding for the long-awaited state veterans home in Bradley County is sure to …
The letter the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs secretary will receive in a few days urging the approval of federal funding for the long-awaited state veterans home in Bradley County is sure to get some attention.
It is, after all, written on the official letterhead of the governor of the state of Tennessee.
“It is clear you hold veterans of all eras in high regard, which is why I am writing to you on behalf of the veterans in my state, specifically those in Bradley County,” wrote Gov. Bill Haslam in his letter dated Tuesday, Jan. 30, to Secretary David J. Shulkin.
The governor gave Shulkin a brief history lesson on the project for which the county has waited for almost two decades.
“As you well know the effort to build a Tennessee State Veterans Home in Bradley County is a high priority for our state and has been an ongoing project started by state Rep. Kevin Brooks in 2003,” Haslam wrote. “The Cleveland and Bradley County communities, including state Rep. Dan Howell, state Sen. Todd Gardenhire and state Sen. Mike Bell, have involved their time, raised more than $7 million in local funding and secured 28.29 acres in donated land.”
The governor noted that 43 percent of Tennessee residents are over the age of 65, and that he has proposed with the General Assembly’s approval, “$7 million in state appropriations for this worthy venture that will provide quality healthcare for the aging veteran population in this area.”
“Tennessee has an unrivaled history of service and devotion to this country, and as governor, I am reminded daily of the pertinence of our nickname,” Haslam wrote.
“This undertaking is no different. Countless hours and energies have gone into making this needed veterans home a reality, and hope in the near future it will come to fruition. Thank you for your thoughtful consideration in this matter.”
Brooks said he was “incredibly grateful” to the governor for sending the personal letter requesting help from Shulkin for the Bradley County State Veterans Home.
“As you can see in the governor’s letter, it was written on Jan. 30, the date of President’s Trump’s first State of the Union Address, in which the president reiterated his strong support for U.S. Veterans, veterans’ care and veterans’ hospitals,” Brooks told the Cleveland Daily Banner. “I am hoping to add to this list of support ... veterans nursing homes."
“Hopefully, this letter from Gov. Haslam to Secretary Shulkin, along with the one I sent last month, will result in attention and action from Washington,” Brooks said. “It is mission critical to keep our local Bradley County Veterans Home on the front line of funding requests.”
A Bradley County commissioner who represents the 7th District, and an announced candidate for the state representative post Brooks is relinquishing, Mark Hall also serves as the co-chairman of the Southeast Tennessee Veterans Home Council.
Hall shares the council's chairmanship role with Bradley County resident Cid Heidel, who has worked as diligently over the past few years to organize local and state funding, and to help lead the charge for federal funding to pay for the majority of the veterans home costs.
Another player at the state level who has been instrumental in her support of Tennessee allocations for the local facility, and for getting a land site approved for the veterans home, is Many-Bears Grinder, state commissioner of Veterans Services. Grinder has visited Bradley County on several occasions to meet with the Veterans Home Council and to attend community events, and patriotic observances, in support of veterans and the proposed nursing home.
In one of her last visits to Bradley County, Grinder encouraged local residents and government leaders to keep the veterans home in the headlines, and to promote community awareness.
In speaking with the Banner on Wednesday, Hall said he is encouraged by the governor's actions in sending the letter to the U.S. secretary.
“This is the kind of news we have been waiting to hear,” Hall said. “As the veterans home project enters into its eleventh year, we are as optimistic as we were on day one! I applaud the governor’s efforts and anticipate a very positive response.”
Larry McDaris, director of Bradley County Veterans Services, and Joe Davis, who retired from the local veterans office in December, have also been key to keeping the veterans home campaign alive. Prior to his retirement, Davis worked closely with the local council, and McDaris continues to do so in his administrative and advocacy role.
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