CLEVELAND, Tenn. - The long quest for a Southeast Tennessee veterans home here inched closer to reality after Gov. Bill Haslam included a key piece of funding for the facility in his budget.
The governor's proposed 2013 budget includes the last of the $23.2 million needed for the 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.
State Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, said Tuesday that funding for the home includes more than $7 million in local money already committed, $3.1 million from the state and more than $13 million in federal funds. That $23.2 million is the full amount needed to build the home.
The local money includes $3 million from an anonymous donor and $2 million commitments each from Cleveland and Bradley County governments.
Bill Norwood, a Korean War veteran and former prisoner of war, said the home is desperately needed in the area.
"We have all these elderly veterans in this area with no way to get to a veterans home unless they go a long distance," he said. "It seems to be coming together now."
Gov. Haslam's announcement also is the culmination of a lifelong dream by local veterans advocate John Simmons, Brooks said. Simmons died in 2009.
Simmons, who was honored posthumously by the state for his efforts to bring a nursing home to Bradley County, "died dreaming this day would come," Brooks said.
Brooks paid a special tribute to Deputy Gov. Claude Ramsey, former Hamilton County mayor, for "shepherding" the funding legislation.
"Claude and I had multiple meetings with Montgomery and Bradley counties," Brooks said. Montgomery County/Clarksville is slightly ahead of Bradley in planning a Tennessee Veterans Living Center.
"Claude said to me last year that Montgomery County would be funded first but 'I promise you it will be next year,'" Brooks said. "And he kept his word."
State Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, added his thanks to the Bradley County Commission and Cleveland City Council for their backing "that supported my fight for the much-needed funds to build the home."
The $3 million represents startup costs for the home, said Joe Davis, Bradley County veterans services officer. Davis serves on the state's Veterans Nursing Home Board. When the center is finished, it must be inspected and approved by Medicare, the state and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs before veterans are admitted.
Core sampling of the ground at the site for the home is the next step, according to the Southeast Tennessee Veterans Home Council, which had overseen funding to this point.
Bradley County gradually has moved up the Veterans Affairs living center priority list since 2003. The department contributes up to 65 percent of the funding. Last year Veterans Affairs redesigned its veterans centers to allow more space per person, and now the local plan calls for a 108-bed facility.
Steve Williams, Thomas Williams and Robert Wright donated 28 acres for the home site in 2010.
Larry McDaris, Bradley County Veterans Services director, said the home here could add 260 jobs to the community and millions of dollars to the local economy.
Tennessee now has state veterans homes in Murfreesboro, Humboldt and Knoxville.
An estimated 46,000 veterans live in Southeast Tennessee, according to the state Veterans Affairs office.