published Friday, February 24th, 2012

Bradley County veterans nursing home still unfunded

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. — The announcement that a proposed Southeast Tennessee veterans nursing home here is now fully funded was premature.

A new list of federal funding priorities released this week shows the Bradley County veterans home pushed down the rankings by three late adds from Virginia.

Now the area’s state lawmakers are appealing to their federal counterparts for help.

State Reps. Kevin Brooks and Eric Watson, both of Cleveland, and state Sen. Mike Bell, of Riceville, wrote to U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and U.S. Reps. Chuck Fleischmann and Scott DeJarlais, who will represent part of the area after redistricting.

“We are of course disappointed,” Bell said in the statement. “We are putting our heads together to come up with other options and a letter of appeal to our colleagues in Washington.”

Last year Bradley County ranked 47th on the national VA priority list, just behind Montgomery County/Clarksville at 42nd place. But the Clarksville facility received funding last year, raising local organizers’ hopes for funding this year for the Bradley project.

The local veterans nursing home committee had hoped for at least fifth place this year, high enough for funding.

Federal funds will account for about two-thirds of the $23 million construction costs with the other third coming from state and local sources.

In his State of the State address, Gov. Bill Haslam included some $3.1 million in state funds for the nursing home.

“Our role in state government is to provide services that Tennesseans aren’t able to get on their own,” including services for veterans, Haslam said in the speech.

An estimated 46,000 veterans live in Southeast Tennessee, according to the state Veterans Affairs Office.

“It will be built,” said VFW Post Commander Richard Huffman Thursday evening. “It will just take a little longer.”

Some veterans feared the project would not happen when the list was released, he said.

“We’ve still got some meetings to do about how this will happen. But yes, the home will be built,” Huffman said.

On the new list, Huffman noted, Bradley County occupies the same place it did last year.

“So we didn’t lose but we didn’t gain,” he said.

Watson said he wants to assure Bradley County residents that “the veterans home is not canceled or gone, this is simply another delay that we are sad to see come.”

Brooks noted that “there was a lot of excitement here in Nashville when Gov. Haslam put funding for our Bradley County veterans home in the state budget.” Brooks noted that Haslam urged the state to “believe in better.”

“Well, we do believe we can do better and we hope to exercise any and all options to keep the momentum going on our local project,” Brooks said in the written statement.

about Randall Higgins...

Randall Higgins covers news in Cleveland, Tenn., for the Times Free Press. He started work with the Chattanooga Times in 1977 and joined the staff of the Chattanooga Times Free Press when the Free Press and Times merged in 1999. Randall has covered Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Alabama. He now covers Cleveland and Bradley County and the neighboring region. Randall is a Cleveland native. He has bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Technological University. His awards ...

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