No additional funds for staffing veterans homes to be included in Matt Blunt's 2008 budget

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Missouri's veterans homes didn't win any recommendations for additional help in Gov. Matt Blunt's fiscal 2008 budget, but that won't be the last word on the issue, state Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, said Friday.

The veterans homes, nursing homes provided by the state, are operating at about 86 percent of capacity because of a lack of funding for enough nurses and nursing aides to care for more veterans. The Missouri Veterans Commission had sought enough extra funding to make the homes almost full at 97 percent of capacity.

Blunt's budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, however, includes no new help. The commission's budget includes a proposed increase of $7.6 million, to $76.4 million, but $5 million is set aside to maintain solvency to the Missouri Veterans Home Fund and $1.2 million is for increased drug costs.

Crowell, chairman of the Senate Pensions, Veterans Affairs and General Law Committee, said he will work with veterans groups and the commission to persuade his fellow lawmakers to find money and authorize the additional personnel.

When first proposed, the commission's plan to fill the empty beds included a call for $4.7 million and 127 new employees. Under a revised proposal, the commission is seeking $2.1 million, authority to hire 57 new employees and to use overtime and temporary help to cover the remaining work needed to use the home's full capacity.

The Cape Girardeau veterans home, which has 150 beds and recently completed a $7 million renovation, has recently had as many as 25 open slots and a waiting list of almost 300 veterans. Statewide, the homes have 1,350 skilled nursing beds with about 1,160 in use.

Crowell's committee held hearings last week to highlight the need for additional help. "The governor has put forth his budget, and the House and the Senate will have their opinions. We have some very, very strong support.

"We made the veterans home funding issue the central focus of the hearing," he said.

Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, is a member of the veterans committee and vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Crowell noted, giving him hope that the funding will be a priority.

One constraint on adding staff is Blunt's position that total state employment remain below 60,000. Finding new staff slots and staying under the ceiling would require eliminating spots elsewhere in state government.

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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