Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis said including the home in the budget is “great” news for Bradley County and more than 46,000 veterans in Bradley and five surrounding counties.
Davis said the important thing to remember now is that all of the funding is in place to build the home and operate it until it is accredited by the VA and Medicare.
“What we’ll be waiting for now is to see how far we move up on the ranking order on the federal list, because all of this is contingent upon federal funding,” Davis said. “If we move far enough up on that ranking list to get funded by the federal government, then this happens and I think he (governor) has done his part.”
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said the need for the home continues to increase as the war on terror continues in Afghanistan.
“This is indeed a step forward. Everything is now in place locally to move ahead as federal funds become available,” he said. “Building a veterans home in Cleveland is a small payment for the sacrifices our men and women of the armed forces continue to make everyday on our behalf. I want to commend State Rep. Kevin Brooks in particular for carrying the ball in Nashville.”
Grant Pirkle, son of the late John Simmons, who devoted years of his life in the pursuit of a state veterans home in Bradley County, was thrilled upon hearing about the allocation.
He said the announcement is not the end of his father’s work, but the fruit of his labor is ripening.
“It was a dream and a goal of his to get it done and it’s just awesome to see it come to fruition,” he said. “Taking care of veterans was his final mission. He didn’t want credit for anything. He just wanted to see it happen.”
Pirkle has found his own ways to continue the work begun by his father.
“We’re trying,” he said. “Even when the home is built, we want to continue with our ‘Boogey at the Barn’ and raise money for the veterans. If the home doesn’t need money, we’ll still give it to veterans organizations.”
This will mark the third year for the annual concert on Simmons’ farm near Charleston. The fundraiser continues to grow and this year, there will be an event in the spring and one in the fall.
“We’re getting bigger names, bigger entertainers and trying to raise more money,” Pirkle said.
He has tentative agreements with two national recording artists whose identities cannot yet be revealed.
The $23 million included in the governor’s budget for the Southeast Tennessee Veterans Home in Bradley County was actually part of a $300.9 million bond authorization package that included $196.95 million for higher education; $14 million for economic development projects; $3.1 million for the veterans community living center; and $86.85 million to renovate and update facilities.
Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration Public Information Officer Lola Potter said the $3.1 million in bonds are for first-year operating expenses of the home estimated at $3.9 million. The breakdown of expenses shows $230,000 in utilities, $150,000 in maintenance costs, $3.52 million for programs and 92 additional personnel.
Bob Tuke, chairman of the State Veterans Home Board, also welcomed the news. He said the funding decision by the governor’s office was done with a “very sharp” pencil.
The home carries an estimated cost of $20.12 million. The federal government’s 65 percent share of the construction cost is $13.04 million and the 35 percent local share is $7.08 million. Adding in the $3.1 million for first-year operating costs totals $23.22 million. The local share is in the form of a $3 million gift from an anonymous donor, and the city of Cleveland and Bradley County have each committed $2.2 million.
Bradley County Veterans Affairs Director Larry McDaris said Tuesday the last piece of the puzzle before the veterans home can be built is for the Department of Veterans Affairs to move it up on the funding list.
McDaris said the annual priority list of pending VA home construction grant applications is generally released in the latter part of the year in November or December, but so far, the 2012 list has not been released.
The 2011 funding list made public in November 2010 showed Bradley County ranking 47th. Of the listed projects, 10 are for new homes. Seven are in line before and two fall behind Bradley County.
“The remaining projects are to repair, replace, remodel or add to already existing facilities which have priority over new construction,” McDaris said. “How far down federal funding goes down on the priority list depends on appropriations to the VA each fiscal year.”
Bradley County VA Services Officer Joe Davis said $125 million has been allocated by the Obama administration, which Davis said is more than the amount the VA requested. It is his understanding the list has been delayed because of some safety issues which have priority above all else.
The designated site is located at 1940 Westland Drive on 28 acres donated by Steve Williams, Thomas Williams, Robert Wright and their families. Environmental testing should be completed by the end of September.
McDaris has expressed concern in the past that the anonymous donors were becoming more inclined to withdraw the $3 million gift. He said Tuesday the governor’s action should restore their faith in the facility with 108 beds built in clusters arranged in a more homelike and neighborhood setting.
In addition to the direct benefit of the health and wellness of the veterans in the home, the community should realize 260 new highly skilled jobs that will translate into $5.5 million annual income and $8 million expended for goods and services.