Mount Vernon to get new veterans' home

Sunday, December 16, 2001

MOUNT VERNON, Mo. -- The city of Mount Vernon is giving the state over 22 acres of land, hoping to benefit from the state's plans to build a a new $22 million, 200-bed veterans home there.

The land, as well as the needed infrastructure the city is installing is estimated to be worth almost $500,000.

In return, the state home will have a 200-person work force drawn from the local population with a monthly payroll of more than $400,000 -- 60 percent of which is estimated to stay in the city.

"We'll get the investment back a thousand-fold," Mayor Bob Walster said. "We help them and they help us."

Construction has already begun on the new, 158,000-square-foot facility just north on Interstate 44, about two miles from the current home. The old veterans facility is part of a complex of buildings that was originally a tuberculosis sanitarium. Today it houses an outpatient clinic, hospital and rehabilitation center.

The veterans home, a wing of the sanitarium, has operated at its full capacity of 102 patients since 10 months after its 1983 opening.

Last week, Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony J. Principi presented a check for $14.3 million to the state toward the new home's construction.

The state's portion of the construction cost will be paid with money collected from admissions paid by gamblers to state riverboats.

At last week's ceremony, Principi said the veterans were deserving of a new home.

"Now they are frail and they are coming to us in their time of need," he said. "This is a wonderful group of men and women who served our world and we can really never repay our debt to them."

There are about 550,000 veterans in the state and 500 are on waiting lists for the seven state homes. The others are in St. Louis, Cape Girardeau, St. James, Mexico, Warrensburg and Cameron.

Some of those veterans are already looking forward to moving into the Mount Vernon facility's 200 beds.

The current home has limitations.

Residents share rooms --two to a room; three rooms have three each. In the new facility, 64 rooms will be semiprivate (two to a room) and 72 rooms will be private.

The home is expected to be complete in the spring of 2003.

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